CHENNAI: 2019 was a landmark year for Raynier Fernandes. Nailing down a starting spot in your very first season for your Indian Super League outfit is no easy task but the 23-year-old managed to do that in the second half of last season.
That he has played 11 out of 12 games for Mumbai City FC this term suggests he has further solidified that position. But the highest point of the year for Raynier would have been that hot, humid afternoon in Buriram, Thailand when he strode out at half-time to make his India debut as the national team faced Curacao in the King’s Cup. His name was lost among the shuffle — he was one of the six debutants to play a role in Igor Stimac’s first game as India coach. For the midfielder though, it was the culmination of a meteoric rise that did not take too long.
Just three years before that afternoon in Buriram, Raynier was playing in the Mumbai league with Air India. “I started my journey through Air India and played in the Mumbai league,” he says. His performances there caught the attention of Mohun Bagan who signed him promptly. He was on the fringes for the club in his first season but came to the fore in his second, when he was involved in all but one of Bagan’s I-League fixtures.
“My stint there was like a turning point for me,” says Raynier. “I got to learn a lot there. The important thing for a junior like me there was playing time. You keep playing matches, that’s how you get experience. I got to start a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal derby when I was there and that was a big thing for me.”
Mumbai City FC came calling before the 2018 season, taking the youngster back to his hometown. Raynier did not take long to work his way into Mumbai coach Jorge Costa’s good books. It is a relationship that he has successfully maintained since. “If you see how I play, it’s just keeping the ball down and take one-two touches,” he says. “What is good for me is that we have similar players in the team. And Costa likes players who play this kind of a game. At the club, we have quite a few good players, so I can learn from them.”