Indian Super League 2022-23 Season Review: Odisha FC
It was the Juggernaut’s first-ever playoff finish.
The 2022-23 ISL season will remain memorable in the minds of Odisha FC players, management, and fans as the side achieved their first-ever playoff finish this season. It was a nail-biting end to the league phase whereby Odisha FC managed to clinch a playoff spot by finishing sixth, just above FC Goa. Going beyond the fact of finishing among the top-six, Odisha FC showcased a distinct style of attacking football and a strong character throughout the season. In this regard, the team’s character received a lot of praise from football pundits as the side was able to carve out a number of good comeback wins to take their season to the playoffs.
The club made a very good start to the league season and was on top of the points table for a few weeks in the initial phase. However, their performance dipped as the season went along. They found themselves amid a nine-game run in which they had only one win from these games. Yet, in crucial league matches, the side showed composure and won the games to earn some invaluable points that sealed their playoff spot.
In the playoff game, however, Odisha had to play an away game against the formidable ATK Mohun Bagan. Odisha FC had never defeated ATK Mohun Bagan prior to the game and they were not able to change that fact in the playoff game too! Hence, they crashed out of the playoff after ATK Mohun Bagan won the game 2-0.
Despite their disappointing elimination from the playoff, Odisha will remember the season as the first of many. It was their first playoff finish. Their star striker Diego Mauricio became the joint-highest goal scorer of the season with 12 goals and bagged the Golden Boot. Many youngsters like Nandhakumar Sekar, Vanlalruatfela Ralte, and Jerry Mawihmingthanga hit headlines due to their sublime performances. Yet, Josep Gombau parted ways with the club after the end of the league season to further disappoint the fans.
Fact Sheet for Odisha FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23
Undoubtedly, the best performer for Odisha FC was Diego Mauricio. He was one of the joint-highest scorers in the league with 12 goals. He also made four assists, taking his overall goal contributions to 16. Mauricio had been in scintillating form throughout the league and scored in many crucial matches. Apart from his goal contributions, his ability to take an immense amount of workload and link-up play with fellow attackers like Nandha and Jerry proved to be devastating for many opponents including a few table-toppers.
Arguably, the revelation of the season for Odisha FC was Nandhakumar Sekar. He was the highest Indian goal-scorer for his side with six goals from 20 games. He maintained good form throughout the season and created numerous problems for opponents from Odisha’s left flank. His sharp movements, fast runs, and good control over the ball made him a lethal attacker alongside Mauricio. Consequently, he scored a few spectacular goals in a number of games to aid his side in reaching the playoffs.
The finding of the season for Odisha FC and one of the most promising young players in this season’s league was Isak Vanlalruatfela. He began the season well and looked in sync with Gombau’s system. However, due to some unavoidable personal reasons, the youngster had to leave the team in between the season for a couple of months.
Yet, playing in 10 games, the winger made a strong impact on the team’s performance. He scored twice, one of which was a spectacle, and provided two assists in these games, totalling a tally of four goal contributions. If Ralte is able to continue this type of form in the next few seasons, then he will turn out to be a highly valuable asset for the Juggernauts.
1. Jamshedpur FC 2-3 Odisha FC
2. East Bengal 2-4 Odisha FC
3. Odisha FC 3-1 East Bengal
4. Odisha FC 3-1 Hyderabad FC
Manager’s report card
It was the best-ever season for Odisha FC as they reached the playoffs for the first time. Their former head coach Josep Gombau is entitled to get a lot of credit for this achievement. He was able to create a strong character for the team that showcased a never-say-die attitude throughout the season. The side earned many comeback wins this season against teams like Kerala Blasters, Jamshedpur FC, East Bengal, etc. Hence, it is clear that the manager was able to shape a team with a very strong mindset.
Despite not being able to reach the semi-finals, the side’s footballing style earned a lot of praise from multiple sources. Within resource constraints, Gombau was able to assemble a formidable side with a good balance of youth and experience. He marshalled his troops well to ensure that the players get ample rest within a tight schedule. Moreover, youngsters like Jerry and Vanlalruatfela came under the limelight under his watch, that too in style. Hence, parting ways with Gombau may prove to be costly for the Juggernauts in the upcoming seasons.
Lessons to be learned
Firstly, the side showed this season that it has every potential to become a force in Indian football in the upcoming days. Taking a cue from this idea, the management should be focusing on developing the team further. The management should look to expand the budget, rope in more quality senior players, and further look to develop youngsters who can become assets in future.
The team lacked consistency and lost its way in between. This should be a major takeaway from this season on which the club should work for the subsequent seasons. It was due to this lack of consistency that the team struggled to finish among the top-six. Despite being on top of the table after the first few games, the side lost points in many crucial games and had to contend with a sixth-placed finish. Thus, going forward, the club management needs to focus on how they can improve their consistency.
Lastly, the biggest takeaway from this season for Odisha FC has been their ability to compete with the best teams in the league. The team showcased a strong character throughout and played brilliant football. Even in many of the games in which the side lost, their football was top-notch. Hence, the club should look at this season as a watershed moment in the club’s history and look to build on this season’s success to become a bigger force in Indian football.
We are satisfied with the team’s performance, especially after a new coach came in and a new foreign squad was signed by the team. We made it to the quarter-finals of the Durand Cup and the playoffs of the ISL for the first time. So, it was a big achievement for everyone at the club as it was what was aimed before the season started.
We expected a lot from Victor Rodriguez and Pedro Martin. But Victor was not available for most of the season because of an injury. Pedro did try to score a few goals but he was again not that effective as a number seven. Injury to Soosairaj was also a concerning factor. He was supposed to be a backup for Nandha but that also did not happen. So, these are some things that we would like to work on in the next season.
We had a couple of positives from this season. Saul (Crespo) has been a huge revelation for the club, especially when Odisha FC has always struggled in the midfield. Saul had been a midfield general for us. He had marshalled the troops really well. Isak, Thoiba, and Raynier got an opportunity to improve their game by playing alongside Saul throughout the season. The return of Carlos to the team proved to be a boon for the team. He had been rock-solid at the back. The defence has got a lot stronger. Odisha FC has retained him for the next season, which is again a very good sign of continuity and consistency.
Amrinder has been by far the best goalkeeper that we have had over the past three seasons, making some crucial saves and pulling off some blinders that could have gone in had it been some other goalkeeper. Diego Mauricio is one of the finds of this season, proving why he is one of the most prolific goal scorers in Hero ISL, scoring 12 goals. Other than that, Nandha came to life this season, scoring the highest number of goals for Odisha FC, compared to all of his previous seasons. Isak has been an impressive youngster, coming off the bench and competing for a place in the team with Jerry. He has shown that he has the capability to be a part of the playing XI.
There are some problems as far as the formation and tactics are concerned. Josep was here but now that he is not here, it will be Clifford who will take on the reins. The only concern that we had when Josep was here was his experiments when it came to game time. This is because, for a team that performed well with the same squad and formation, Josep tried to experiment a bit too much by changing players in the starting XI. That was one of the primary reasons that we lost some crucial games. I think Clifford would be plugging those holes and bringing stability to the team. So, for the Super Cup, we expect to reach at least the knockouts and get better results.