The Red Machines appear one of the most ill-prepared and unpredictable teams heading into the competition.
Last Season’s Performance: Sixth
Churchill Brothers had a poor start to the league last season as they had only one point after playing the first four matches where they lost first three matches to Mohun Bagan, Mumbai FC and East Bengal followed by a 1-1 draw against DSK Shivajians in the fourth match. They next stunned Bengaluru FC, defeating them 2-1 at home.
However, their poor run continued in the next few matches as they managed to grab just two points from the next five outings keeping them at the bottom of the table with just six points with from half the season.
Then the Churchill management brought in most the experienced Goan coach Derrick Pereira in the middle of the season following a rundown performance in the league and the 55-year-old surprised everyone as the same squad which went down to Mumbai who was relegated last season, defeated both Kolkata giants Bagan and East Bengal in back-to-back matches. While they registered a 6-1 win against Chennai City, which helped them to finish in a respectable 6th position at the end of the league.
It would be a wild stretch of the imagination to say that the Reds had a pre-season coming into the campaign. However, they have been playing in the Goa Professional League, the state top flight which is still ongoing. That said, most of their squad including all their foreign recruits have only been assembled in the last week or two and they have had little or no competitive football under their belt going into the first match.
Shevchenko faces a tough season with an under-cooked Churchill
The departure of Pereira forced the club to once again look for a new coach but unlike last time, the management made sure that the signing of a head coach is done on time and with just two weeks remaining to the league, Churchill announced Mykola Shevchenko as their head coach.
The Ukrainian coach is a former Churchill defender and also played for Dempo SC in the 2001 season. Shevchenko started his coaching career with Uzbekistani club FC Metallurg in 2003, where he spent a year and joined another Uzbek club FC Lokomotive. In 2006, the Ukrainian was given the responsibility of Uzbekistan U-23s and the very next year he was appointed as assistant coach of the senior side. Before joining the Goan club, he spent seven years with FC Metallurg in Uzbekistan.
The coach has vast experience of 12 years in management. Though Shevchenko has been with Goan clubs in the past, the Ukrainian is almost unknown in Indian football and one should not expect much from him.
The Red Machines have completely shuffled their squad from last season as most of the players have been signed by ISL clubs while others have moved to bigger I-League clubs.
Transfers In: The club were the last to announce their I-League squad where they managed to retain only a few players from last season as their captain Suraj, defender Banpynkhrawnam Nongkhlaw, strikers Pankaj Sona, Joshuah Vaz and goalkeeper Ricardo Cardozo were amongst the players who re-signed on the dotted line for the former I-League champions.
They have also signed experienced defender Rahul Kumar from GPL club, Guardian Angel SC, while Uttam Rai and Israil Gurung were also added to their ranks from Mohun Bagan.
Churchill was known for their foreign signings but unlike in the past, this season, most of their foreigners are unknowns. Three of the five foreign signing are from Nigeria which includes defender Osagie Monday, midfielder Peter Omoduemuke and striker Eric Nwaimo, while naturalised Singaporean defender Emuejeraye Precious and naturalised Vietnam midfielder Dinh Van Ta will complete their Asian players’ quota.
Transfers Out: Players like Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes, Navin Kumar has been signed by FC Goa in the ISL Draft, whereas Adil Khan was picked by FC Pune City, Keenan Almeida was signed by Chennaiyin FC and Rowilson Rodrigues signed for Delhi Dynamos for the ongoing ISL season. Liberian striker Ansumana Kromah was roped in by Mohn Bagan, while their other Nigerian striker Anthony Wolfe left the Goan club for his homeland.
Formation and Tactics
How Churchill Brothers could lineup this season
Initially, Alfred Fernandes(now an assistant coach) who was in charge of the team before the arrival of the Ukrainian coach used to start with a 4-4-2 formation with Rai and Sona upfront, while Alber Gonsalves and Gurung were seen on the wings. But now, with the foreign players coming in, Shevchenko will defiantly replace both the forwards with Nigerian striker Eric in a 4-5-1 formation, where Precious and Monday are most likely to lead from the back along with Banpynkhrawnam and Denechandram Meitei. Skipper Suraj could get the responsibility of the defensive midfielder. Nigerian midfielder Peter and Kartik Govindswamy will help the forwards from the heart of the midfield with the wingers.
However, if the Ukrainian chooses to go with an attacking 4-1-3-2 formation, Suraj will remain as the holding midfielder, allowing Peter to play as the #10, with Alber and Israil supporting him on both the wings, with Uttam will replace Kartik to play alongside Eric. Whereas, he also has the option to play two foreign midfielders in a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 formation where Indian defender Rahul will replace either Monday or Precious at centre-back.
This may sound strange but Churchill’s biggest strength this season could be the novelty factor sounding their players and manager. Simply put, not much is known about them and so everyone, likely including their opponents, is a bit unsure of what to expect. This could work to their advantage in the early going until teams become familiar with their ways. As such, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
In theory, the Red Machines have a lot of weaknesses. The most obvious one being the lack of top-flight experience through most of the squad, at least in Indian football. The manager will also face the challenge of getting the players to play as a cohesive team from the word go, following the club’s inability to fit in a proper pre-season ahead of the league. The fact that their foreigners are also new to the Indian game could be a double whammy, in A season that is being billed as a battle between the foreigners, with the premium Indian talent has left for the cash-rich ISL.
Player to Watch
The former FC Pune City winger was part of the I-League winning squad of Churchill Brothers back in THE 2012-13 season. The 28-year-old player has played for Portuguese club Vitoria de Guimaraes in the 2014-15 season, while he also played 15 matches for now-defunct FORMER I-League side DSK Shivajians in last season. The Sports Authority of India Academy product is known for HIS pace with fluent dribbling skills and also his beautiful control on the ball, while HIS ability to play on both wings makes him the complete winger.
Gurung has already proved his calibre in the GPL with a brilliant performance in the last few matches. The speedy winger is most likely to get the responsibility of the right wing.
What To Expect
One should not expect much from the Goan outfit. However, considering that this season could be the last of the I-League, the Goan club needs to try to bring back the glory days of Goan football. With Club CEO Valanka Alemao already stating that “Churchill Brothers are here to win the title” in the media interaction, the Ukrainian coach Shevchenko along with assistant Alfred will have to work hard and make things possible in a difficult scenario, where the two Kolkata clubs will come out with their full strength to win potentially the last I-League title.