He may not be making head turns quite as yet, but this young Goan footballer’s supporting roles essayed as an attacking midfielder in feeding the strikers upfront has given enough indication that the Vasco SC product has the potential to make the senior grade of Indian football.
Princeton Rebello’s immense talent was recognized by FC Goa, who signed him up among nine players as part of their developmental squad. For the 18-year-old Betalbatim lad, his life revolves around football and sacrifices abound for his onward journey to a dream to be a Blue Tiger.
He remembers his mother telling him that as a tiny tot of four years, a football was everything he wished for. By age seven, he enjoyed playing the game in his neighbourhood with the local boys. It was not long before he was chalked in by Ave Maria Sports & Cultural Club, Benaulim to play an U-8 tournament. To his fortitude, a highly respected coach, Eban Mesquita was present and saw something special in the young Princeton. Mesquita immediately took him under his tutelage, whereby Princeton gradually began to grow on the game.
He was introduced to Velsao Pale Sports Club while only aged eight when he was called for practice. Impressed by what he saw, Mesquita got him inducted into his Betalbatim-based side. Starting to play at the GFA U-10 tournaments and at the GFA Football Festival at the stadium in Fatorda while turning out for Velsao Pale, he remembers his team reaching the semi-finals before losing to the mighty Salgaocar.
“Back then, I was not up to the mark. I only started playing and did not know what football was,” the talented footballer concedes. He recalls another opportunity at the Football Festival, this time at the U-13 level, where he scored the winning goal to register a 2-1 victory against Salgaocar while representing Betalbatim Sports Club.
His impactful exploits on field in the tourney did not go unnoticed and he was awarded the Best Promising Player of the Tournament. He remembers Armando Colaco, the then Dempo coach, tell his parents, he wanted him play for his club at the senior level in due course. “He (Armando) told me to play for Betalbatim Sports Club and when I became a senior to join the Dempo,” Princeton revealed.
Princeton was a part of a Betalbatim SC team that won many GFA tourneys at different age-group levels. Eventually, he got an opportunity to showcase his rising stock at the national level in the U-14 tournament at Kalyani, West Bengal in 2013. His impressive performances earned him a call-up to the India U-15 camp in Bengaluru as he eventually made it to the India U-15 side, playing in two tournaments.
In July 2014, his career took a turn as he moved to the United Kingdom and he got selected to play for the Queens Park Rangers’ U-15 side. He stayed with the club for six months during which he recalls meeting Charlie Austin, a striker of the senior team, who gave him good advice on how to advance his career.
Princeton had always dreamt of representing the Indian national side, and in November 2014 he received a call to join the Indian camp in due course. He returned from the UK to join the AIFF U-15 camp at Bengaluru and stayed there for a year and a half before returning to Goa on a short vacation. He joined his old club, Betalbatim SC, for the GFA U-16 tournament and scored in a 4-1 title win against Dempo SC at Duler. He also took part in an inter-village tournament at Colva which his team won. “I was the youngest player in the tournament at 15 and was awarded the Best Midfielder of the tournament,” he proudly states.
In time, the AIFF Academy was to shift to Goa mid-May in 2015. Princeton’s precocious skills were recognized by the AIFF coaches as he was told he would get a call to join the U-17 Elite Academy in Goa. He was third among the top 10 U-17 colts selected. There were two other Goans selected -- Rowlin Almeida and Jonathan Da Viega -- but Princeton’s performance and discipline took him much farther.
However as he was not keeping too well physically, his mother decided to take him back to the UK. “I was keen to play in the Goa Pro League in 2015, but mom took me to the UK. She wanted a five-year visa, but only got it for six months. Back in the UK, QPR sent me for Watford FC trials and I was selected to their U-16 team. They had me in their future plans and told me to procure a Portuguese passport, which I refused to do as I would lose my Indian citizenship and with that my aspirations,” Princeton narrated.
By mid 2016, Princeton made his second homecoming with his mentor Eban playing a huge role in bringing him back to Goa. With the GPL to start, he joined Mesquita’s Vasco SC as their No 10 attacking midfield and through the season played a stellar hand with six assists apart from scoring twice. He was thereon selected for the Santosh Trophy State side, but for some reason his name was eventually withheld.
He was also on the radar of I-League heavyweights East Bengal and Punjab side Minerva FC, but many senior footballers from the State advised him it was a premature move to sign for a big club. Eventually he joined the Sporting Clube de Goa, playing for their U-19 team and went on to lead the the side in the U-19 I-League and GFA U-18 tournament. In the latter tournament, he scored as many as eight goals in a 19-0 drubbing of Ronit FC.
His telling performances earned him a call-up to the India U-19 camp for the SAFF and AFC Cup which made him the only Goan to get the honour. Early May, FC Goa jumped on the bandwagon to harness his potential and expressed their interest in him to Mesquita. Princeton, who is on loan to Penha de Franca in the ongoing GFA First Division, signed up for the Gaurs developmental squad and would join the club at the start of June. He is hopeful that FC Goa will grant him a release for the India U-19 camp.
Interestingly, fate played a hand in Princeton marshalling the midfield. “I used to be a striker. It so happened in one of my U-14 games, a midfielder was red-carded and I was brought into midfield in a tactical gambit and ever since that has been my role,” the Betalbatim-based youngster said. “Even for India at the age-group levels, I played as an attacking midfielder,” he added.
His mentor and coach through the years, Mesquita holds his protégée in high esteem. “No youngster can match him with his skill and body feints and he has it in him to play in the ISL 1-2 years from now,” the coach said. “If he gets his chances at the club level, he can make a good career by playing for FC Goa. He has left his studies, to make his career in football and he will get only better provided he develops his physique and gets more power in his play,” Mesquita added.
A Level 1 Sports Science holder from Thames London College, Princeton has football in his genes. His uncle Arnaldo Rebello played for Dempo SC with distinction. Princeton mentions Cristiano Ronaldo as his inspiration, while his favourite midfielder is Luka Modric. Among Goan footballers, he counts Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence and Micky Fernandes as his idols.
Talking of his career targets, the lad said: “I want to play for the India U-19 team. I am focused on that. I also want to play in ISL for FC Goa senior team and I will try my best to prove myself to get there this year itself. I want to get in ISL as soon as possible. I have worked so hard for it,” the ambitious youngster said.