There were a number of subplots to the tie when ATK Mohun Bagan FC (ATKMB) took on FC Goa in the Indian Super League (ISL) towards the end of last month. The headline was undoubtedly dominated by newly appointed ATKMB coach, Juan Ferrando on the eve of his first game in-charge of the Kolkata club since his abrupt move from FC Goa a few days earlier. But by the end of the game, it was another former FC Goa man, Liston Colaco, who left his mark with a magical strike that initially handed ATKMB the lead and eventually helped them secure a 2-1 win.
An intercepted ball by midfielder Deepak Tangri landed at Colaco’s feet. It took three measured touches for him to beat his marker, Seriton Fernandes, his buddy and roommate from his FC Goa days. He then unleashed a vicious strike from 30 yards out that had enough bend and curve on it to beat Goa goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh at full stretch in goal.
The celebration was muted against his former employers, who had handed him a break in the ISL four seasons ago. But yet again, Colaco, 23, made it evident just why ATKMB broke the bank to sign him from Hyderabad FC last year. It was his fifth strike in 10 games —the most by an Indian and one that also made him joint top-scorer at the club alongside Hugo Boumous—adding to his collection of “golazo from Colaco” that has become a cliche of sorts with commentators this season. “It is my favourite goal because of the way the ball dipped and the speed that I could generate on that shot,” Colaco says.
The quick feet have been a hallmark of Colaco’s game, leaving defenders in knots as he shuffles past them with ease. His ability to operate on either flank further makes him versatile as an attacker. Despite this being his first season at ATKMB, he’s featured in every game so far, at ease while playing alongside seasoned campaigners like Roy Krishna, last season’s Golden Ball winner, and Boumous. “With fewer foreign players in the starting lineup, we now have more possibilities to attack and play in our original positions. Besides, I have learnt a lot from Roy and Hugo, who constantly motivate me and have helped me improve as a player,” he says.
Last year was special for Colaco. He started getting regular game time with Hyderabad FC in his first full season, and he scored two goals and provided three assists. Though Hyderabad narrowly missed out on a play-off spot, his performance was enough to earn him a call-up for the India national team’s friendlies in March 2021, where he made his debut against the United Arab Emirates. The following month, ATKMB signed the then 22-year-old winger for an undisclosed, yet record, transfer fee for any Indian player. “There is no pressure on me and I don’t really think about these things (transfer fees). My job is to keep working hard and give my best consistently on the pitch,” Colaco says.
This attitude has helped Colaco steadily climb up through the ranks over the past decade. Back home in Goa, he joined the Salgaocar academy after trials as an Under-12 player. The breakthrough came in 2017, where he finished as top-scorer in the Under-18 I-League as well as the Goa Pro League. The same year, he was instrumental in taking Goa to the Santosh Trophy final where they narrowly lost to West Bengal in extra time. It was enough reason for FC Goa to invest in the teenager who still had to prove his worth on the big stage.
“I had always dreamt of playing for my country and state team. The experience at Salgaocar allowed me to take a step forward towards it,” Colaco says.“But moving from Salgaocar to FC Goa was the turning point for me. Joining an ISL club and playing with the best players was a great opportunity that I landed early in my career,” he adds.
However, it took a while for him to find his feet among the big boys. Game time was hard to come by at FC Goa. But after a free transfer to Hyderabad FC in early 2020, he excelled in a team that had eager young players just like him. And last season, Colaco gave enough proof of the skills that makes him a veritable threat in any line-up.
Finding a place in the starting XI has always been a competitive affair at ATKMB. Yet Colaco has made the left wing his own ahead of Michael Soosairaj. Soosairaj had been signed from Jamshedpur FC for big money by ATK (before that team’s merger with Mohun Bagan in 2020). What has made life relatively simpler for Colaco is the presence of Manvir Singh on the opposite flank. Singh began his ISL journey alongside Colaco while at FC Goa, and was signed by ATKMB last year for what was also a record transfer fee at the time.
“It feels great to have a teammate from my younger days. We have formed a very good partnership in the forward line, and I hope we keep performing the way we are doing now to bring success to ATK Mohun Bagan,” Colaco says. And that is certainly a possibility if there are to be more golazos from Colaco this season.
Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.