Rodrigues makes presence felt

What does one say after winning the Indian Footballer of the Year Award? Lenny Rodrigues kept it simple when he said, "It was a dream come true." Unlike the well-known figures in Indian football, like the former national captain Baichung Bhutia and current captain Sunil Chhetri, the 26-year old Lenny Rodrigues has a name that not many have heard of.

Developing a passion for the game when his grandfather took him to watch football matches, the Verna-born Cortalim-based Rodrigues turned professional at the age of 17 when he played for Fransa-Pax Football Club, a club who's dissolving led Rodrigues to train with Salgaocar FC for a year and a half. Though he was offered a contract to play in the senior team for his new club, Rodrigues turned it down to wait for an unpredictable dream move to Churchill Brothers, a club he supported as a boy, as an under-20 player. "It was the perfect move for me," said Rodrigues, citing that even his father had supported the club.

Passing through Churchill Brothers' youth system, the midfielder won the I-League the year he joined the club, in the 2008-09 season. "Though I was a young player, I had never had any problems getting into the first team," he said. "I would always do my best to work hard and it paid off for me." Before this season's I-League win, Rodrigues also played a role in his teams wins at the Durand Cup and IFA Shield in 2009 and 2011.

Always putting the need of the team before his own, the midfielder, who had initially started playing as a forward, adopted a more defensive role to his play. "The club needed to me to play as a defensive midfielder since it worked well with our tactics," explained Rodrigues, going further to state that he sometimes played as a full-fledged defender whenever the team needed him to fill in for an injured player.

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