Much of the Gaurs’ season was defined by their youngsters showing maturity beyond their years but ultimately the lack of experience cost them in the big moments.
Traditionally Goa is considered one of the hotbeds of Indian football. The popularity of the game in the southwestern coast of the nation is immense and it has never failed to draw attention. With the advent of the Indian Super League(ISL) in 2014, Goans had another reason to cheer as Virat Kohli co-owned FC Goa came to the foray.
The first three seasons of ISL saw FC Goa ride on a roller coaster track under Brazilian football great Zico. While the Gaurs bowed out in the semi-finals in the first two seasons, the third season saw them finish at the very bottom thereby ending Zico’s tenure.
For the fourth edition of ISL, the Gaurs’ management roped in Sergio Lobera Rodriguez to fill in the managerial boots. The Spanish tactician, best known for his coaching stints with FC Barcelona’s youth teams and UD Las Palmas (in Spanish Segunda division), instilled an attack-oriented mindset into the team in a bid to win back the confidence of the home fans. It seemed to work pretty well as FC Goa won four of their first six outings.
Much unlike previous seasons, they implemented strategies and focused especially on tapping local Goan talents this time around. The effort put in by the Assistant Manager and Head of Youth Development, Derrick Pereira, in this regard has been inexplicable.
Most would agree to the fact that FC Goa probably had one of the best attacks in the ISL this season. The talented Spanish duo of Ferran Corominas and Manuel Lanzarote were instrumental in guiding Goa into the playoffs overcoming a bad patch of form encountered mid-season. These two accounted for 31 out of 46 goals for the Gaurs in the league stages of this season.
Although Goans were enjoying their bounty of goals in the first few matches, little did they realize that scratches beneath their feet and they were always skating on thin ice. In course of much of the season, they were only preparing over cracks and their tame defeats to Chennaiyin FC over the two legs didn’t come as a surprise. The team from the west coast hit a really bad patch of form towards the business end of the season.
Corominas and Lanzarote duo has been the driving force of FC Goa this term
One of the key problems was their excessive dependence on the Coro-Lanza partnership. Nobody really managed to step up and execute their plans when this duo looked off colour on certain occasions.
To the disappointment of Indian fans, most of the domestic players had average seasons but that was overshadowed to a large extent by the individual brilliance of the foreign recruits as they carried the team on their back. Laxmikant Kattimani (goalkeeper), Narayan Das (defender) and Pranoy Halder (midfielder) in particular, were subject to constant scrutiny owing to their substandard performances this season.
Prior to this season, FC Goa boss Sergio Lobera had stated that he believes in the footballing philosophy of FC Barcelona and aimed to play attacking football. “My aim is to play direct and get the short passes going. I want to maintain possession and try to win back the ball as soon as we are dispossessed. I would like the players remain as close to the opposition’s goal as possible. While results do matter, we want to exhibit a certain style of play.” It seemed Goa hadn’t done their homework when it came to defensive preparations as Lobera’s attacking tactics backfired. The team kept only two clean sheets over the 18 matches in the league stages. The fact that FC Goa conceded 28 goals, which still is one more than 10th place NorthEast United FC’s tally, rests the case.
FC Goa dealt another major blow mid-season when Adrian Colunga Perez and Manuel Arana left the club. While Colunga had a fall out with coach Sergio Lobera, Manuel Arana agreed on a loan move to league rivals Delhi Dynamos in search of more game time.
It is high time FC Goa learnt the lesson that there’s no hideout for local players anymore because they need to step up and take more responsibilities with the ‘6 Indian players rule’ in place. If not, well-oiled teams like Chennaiyin and Bengaluru might well bulldoze them down. Interestingly Khel Now had earlier predicted that the team lacked the experience to deliver when it matters the most. The bunch of domestic players rode on the waves of ecstasy without any farsighted approach which is bound to happen with a relatively unfledged group. The team could not shift gears as they would have wanted and rode on luck and last moment scares to qualify for the playoffs.
With another semifinal exit, the Gaurs would definitely go back to the drawing boards and supplement the squad with experienced Indian professionals who could take the team one step further. Only time will tell whether FC Goa can break the jinx and bring glory to the Gaur Nation.