Mumbai City FC captain Rahul Bheke has appreciated the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) for building a channel of players for Indian Super League (ISL) clubs by providing competitive exposure to youngsters across teams. Bheke gave the example of the Super Cup when a host of the players from the squad of the Islanders stood up to steer them to the last-four.

The seasoned India defender also appreciated the smooth transition that these players have made from youth level football to the senior team, hailing the level of football on display in the RFDL.

“It’s a great initiative. I think the players who are graduating from there are performing really well in the ISL. There are a couple of players from there in our team also. You can see them in the Super Cup, when the national team players were out; they performed really well, especially against Odisha FC. That was one of the positive signs of Indian football, where you can see the junior players coming up and doing so well,” Bheke said.

To give some context, Mumbai City FC had signed Franklin Nazareth and Nathan Rodrigues ahead of the current season of the ISL. Both of them had played in the RFDL for the Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYC) last season and were a part of Mumbai City FC squad for the Super Cup as well. They are RFYC graduates, having underwent their training in their residential academy in Navi Mumbai before embarking on their respective professional careers.

In addition to being a key first-team player, Bheke is also a seasoned figure that youngsters look up to within the Mumbai City FC roster and beyond. With vast experience in clubs spanning across the country, such as East Bengal FC, Kerala Blasters FC, Bengaluru FC, and now Mumbai City FC, the 33-year-old has seen Indian football from up close and is a key guide to the youngsters rising the ranks within the Islanders’ setup. Bheke believes that there are certain moments in games that completely swing the momentum and change the course of action, which need to be capitalised upon to get a favourable result.

“Throughout my career, there have been so many lessons that I have learnt, but there have also been small details that have helped me grow individually. I have seen games where a foul has taken a team down and taken them out of the competition. These small things are very important that we have to keep in mind, and we need to keep focusing on that. That’s what I keep telling the junior players, that being focused in the moment and sticking to the plans is very important,” Bheke said.

Ahead of the second leg of their semi-final against FC Goa, Bheke also opened up about the philosophy of Mumbai City FC, and how it is ingrained into the players’ right from the time they set foot into the club. The skipper understands that having a mind-set and philosophy defined helps the players buy into the ideas readily and thus begin delivering the required performances right from the get go.

“There is a philosophy of Mumbai City FC of how we want to play. It’s there in the mind of everyone. We know right from the beginning about how we are going to play, all the players, whether it’s the ones who are playing or the ones coming off the bench, everyone knows that playing style and sticking to it is the key.” Bheke said.

Bheke has been one of the most recognisable faces in Indian football in the last decade. His understanding of the youth football structure and how players can progress from competitions like the RFDL to cement their first-team spots is certainly insightful. For him though, the focus shifts to the second leg of Mumbai City FC’s semifinal fixture against FC Goa, after they produced a stunning late comeback to win the opening leg by 3-2 at the home of the Gaurs.


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