Several youngsters from the Gaurs first-team have risen through the ranks in the coastal state’s elite competition.

The bedrock of any successful project depends upon the efforts put on getting the fundamentals right. Needless to say, this logic particularly applies to football clubs starting off in glitzy new leagues. It is one thing to grab all the attention due to the popularity of a competition that one enters in.

However, consciously developing a system that creates a pipeline of prodigious talents holds the club in good stead for the road ahead. In that sense, the focus laid upon the Goa Pro League (GPL) by FC Goa is an ideal model for other clubs to adopt. The league, organized by the Goa Football Association, is the topmost state-level football competition in the coastal state.

The GPL traces its roots back to 1951 when it was first launched as the Goa First Division. The league was later renamed in 1977 and until 1997 it was referred to as Goa Super Division. Post that, we got the version that is prevalent in the current times. Take this for instance; the Indian Super League (ISL) is often accused of having a short season, spanning only over 4-5 months and hence not providing players adequate game-time in a calendar year.

The GPL, despite being a state-level competition, often operates for around six months. The 2021 season will be curtailed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Often, a point is reiterated that no topmost football league can succeed unless its second tier is equally competitive. Such a desirable ecosystem harnesses talent, ambitiousness and instills a victorious attitude among teams that eventually earn promotion to the first division.

To draw parallels from other sports: the Indian cricket team’s historic victory in the Border-Gavaskar trophy recently is largely attributed to the scores of young debutants, who were conveniently adapted to overseas conditions due to the BCCI’s robust ‘India A’ team mechanism. Perhaps, the Gaurs have taken a leaf out of that book and optimized the advantages that they can gain from the state’s Pro League.

For starters, the Gaurs shelled out a massive ₹ 50 lacs to secure a direct entry for their development team in the GPL. To fathom that amount’s importance in Indian football’s context, it must be noted that that FC Goa were awarded the same amount for lifting the league winners’ shield last season! So, it’s pretty clear that the outfit put significant importance on the GPL to streamline the potential of young talent at their disposal. Needless to say, the results of that are there to be seen.

The Gaurs’ senior squad had 14 local players out of the total 30 members ahead of the start of the ongoing Indian Super League campaign. Princeton Rebello has played 12 games in this ISL season and become a vital cog in Juan Ferrando’s setup. He had instantly caught the attention through some stellar outings for Vasco SC in 2016. Within a year, the midfielder was a part of then newly-launched FC Goa development squad and has now become one of their key domestic players.

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The buck doesn’t stop there. Mohamed Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Sanson Pereira, Lenny Rodrigues, Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes and Devendra Murgaonkar, almost the entire Indian contingent of FC Goa have plied their trade in the GPL at some point in their career. One of the defining features of the competition is perhaps the quality of the teams participating in it. Churchill Brothers, Dempo SC, Salgaocar, Sporting Clube de Goa participate in the GPL regularly. These are teams that have previously lifted the highest honours of the sport in the country.

Youngsters learn best when they are put through the rigours from an early age. FC Goa do that by pitting their most developed talents against some of the most seasoned clubs in the country. Mind you, this is even before these individuals managed to break into the Gaurs’ first-team. It is practically impossible for an ISL team to succeed without commendable performances from their Indian players.

However, teams can often not manage to test these local lads in actual competition, as the stakes are high in every game. Hence, they require a solid, challenging platform other than the top league to put these up and coming players through the grind.

The FC Goa developmental team have finished at the fifth, first and fifth spots respectively in their three campaigns in the GPL so far. But, the benefits that they have availed from the league directly reflect in the efficiency with which they churn out ISL-ready talents. It hasn’t been an overnight process.

The club’s think-tank went out of their way to invest in these avenues over a considerable period of time. Now, they will reap the benefts of the same by becoming the first Indian club to play in the group stages of the AFC Champions League. More importantly, they are only getting started.

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