Hailing from Maharashtra, Raju Gaikwad is a well known name in the Indian Football circuit. Gaikwad, primarily a left back has played in all defensive positions in his career. The former Tata Football Academy graduate had a very good season last year. After joining debutants SC East Bengal mid-season, he became one of the mainstays of Robbie Fowler’s team and upgraded their defense very well.
Q: The entire last edition of ISL was played within a bio bubble last year, how was your experience playing in it?
• It was difficult and mentally draining. It was a totally new experience for everyone including me. We had not played in such a situation before and it was tough for everyone. I have to say that in general the ISL has done really well. They concluded the whole tournament under very difficult circumstances without a hiccup. If you can remember even the IPL was halted.
Q: Before you joined SC East Bengal, their defensive performance was below average but after your arrival, the team breathed a new fire and team organization improved rapidly. What did you do differently?
• As a unit, we tried to communicate a lot more with our teammates to work upon defensive organization and we worked hard. Our coaching staff and Robbie worked very hard to bring the results. It was a really difficult situation and it is not easy for a team to have 2 weeks of preparation and then to get a settled setup, It takes some time to bring cohesion and familiarity.
As far my individual preparation is concerned I had been studying the opponent’s team and their movements to prepare against them.
Q) You had an assist from a throw-in last season. You specialise in these long throws, do you train separately for them?
• First of all I believe it is a God sent gift to me, I’m lucky and blessed with this strength. I always work hard in the training and sharpen the long throws.
Since I am from Mumbai I had learned this trait from Uttam Singh, Naushad Moosa . I have learnt credentials from them to specialize in this.
Q) How was the experience working with Robbie Fowler?
• It was a great experience. He is a legend. I’m lucky to have played under him and under his guidance. He used to guide us in difficult situations in matches and training sessions. He had really helped us and even individually had been a great help to me. I have spoken a lot with him and he had guided me well. He is a great coach and a great man.
Q: You had played with two of the biggest club in India. Can you please share your playing experience?
• Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are two great clubs in India. During my Tata Football Academy days, I dreamt to play for these two clubs. The craze from both of these clubs is massive. The respect they give to their players, is amazing. I have experienced it first hand and I have been for 9-10 years in Kolkata. I have happy memories with both of the clubs, it could be difficult if you are a fan*(Laugh). But I have enjoyed my experience thoroughly in Calcutta.
Q: What do you think Mumbai or Maharashtra football in general should do to match the level of Goa /Bengal/Kerala?
• Yes, Mumbai is Cricket Centric but the Football culture in Maharashtra was always there. Mumbai FC, Air India, Mahindra were part of our top division in past, the growth in our ecosystem but all of these teams backed out. Right now only Mumbai City is in the top division.
I believe there should be more teams from Mumbai and Maharashtra as a whole.
On the other hand Aditya Thackeray, President of MDFA had made a lot of improvement on Football. I had seen many changes which will help many youngsters and players.
I would love to see more grassroot programmes as they are the future of Indian Football.
ISL and Reliance have raised a great platform for the growth of Indian Footballers. But for Mumbai, there must be more clubs in the second division of the I-league, and I-league. Mumbai City is also there at the top division, but for youngsters to flourish they need more opportunities than only the craze and growth of Maharashtra Football ecosystem will uplifts.
Q: Which title do you rate higher, a win in SAFF Championship or Nehru Cup?
• I am glad to win both of the major titles. It’s been a great honour for me, and I like to cherish it for my life.
I believe in Nehru Cup we had beaten a top-level team in Cameroon in the finals. They are quite regular in World Cups and it was a great experience of playing against them.
Q: Do you have anything to say about the uncertainties at SC East Bengal?
• I don’t want to comment on this sensitive issue. But that day, it was quite heartbreaking. East Bengal have fans all over the world. I felt sad when I saw the videos and the photos. This situation broke my heart. I hope this matter get resolved as soon as possible.
Q: What are your goals for the upcoming season?
• My agent is in talks with a club from ISL.Most probably I will decide my move within the upcoming week.