Skipper Steven Taylor also expressed his thoughts ahead of the season opener.
Odisha FC will commence their 2020-21 campaign on Monday when they face Hyderabad FC in the fourth match of the Indian Super League (ISL). New head coach Stuart Baxter and captain Steven Taylor expressed their thoughts and answered some interesting questions ahead of the upcoming fixture.
Speaking on the preparedness of Odisha FC, Baxter expressed, “I don’t think anybody is completely ready. If you ask any coach, they’d like more time, if you ask any players they’d like more practice games. The coaching staff and the technical staff have done a good job. So, when the kick-off comes, we’ll be as ready as we can be.”
Upon being asked about having to play the entire competition in Goa due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tactician said, “As a footballer, a professional athlete, you’ve got no real comfort levels. Your job is to stretch those levels as far as you can. Sometimes, you have to go outside of them…the players have approached that in a good way and we have to see how we can stretch ourselves in this situation.”
Odisha FC won the two encounters in the previous season against HFC and speaking in that context, Stuart Baxter said, “History does not help anybody. We have got two new games against them. They have got new players, we have got new players, there’s a lot of things changed at both ends. So, we’ll approach this game based on here and now, not what could have been or what may be.”
Further, the Englishman was asked about Marcelinho, Diego Mauricio and if the team will be relying on the Brazilian duo to bolster the attack, to which he answered, “I think relying on players is a very risky business. Of course, foreign players should be influential. One of the biggest influences I want them to have is to affect the Indian lads positively, encourage them and help them to develop. We are certainly looking for everybody to help in the development of the Indian lads.”
Stuart Baxter also touched upon OFC’s last season’s performance and what the fans can expect from the Juggernauts this time around. “I think if you look at last year’s performance, the coach had been here for two years. I watched a lot of games before I came and there was certainly a style of football that was possession-based.”
“The team conceded more goals than the coach wanted and probably did not score enough in transition. The set-plays needed to be polished, so we are hoping to build on what was done last year. I would like to think we are going be efficient as well as attractive. That will be our challenge and we will do our best,” the 67-year-old further added.
Meanwhile, Steven Taylor was also asked to express his thoughts on playing in different climatic conditions as compared to the Premier League and the A-League. “I think you have to accept humid conditions and just concentrate on the game. If you keep thinking about the conditions, it can affect your performance. You just get on and deal with it.”
He also shared his opinion on being the captain and the experience he brings to the table saying, “I’ll make sure to take the pressure off my teammates and lead by example. When I do that hopefully the rest of the team follows.”
“I think working with a lot of managers ,you pick out the best bits and try to bring to the team as well. Obviously, learning now with Stuart and the experience he’s got will develop my game and improve me as a player. It’s fantastic, especially for the young Indian boys to gather that information and hopefully it will benefit them,” he added.
Stuart Baxter was also asked about the Indian contingent he has at his disposal, to which he responded, “All of our Indian players are really quite young. All of the young lads have really got to have a steep learning curve and they can learn from people like Steven. They can learn from actual games and they can learn from gaining information from the coaching staff.”
He also had his say on Shubham Sarangi, who is a fan-favourite among fans of the club. He said, “Shubham is a good player at the moment and I am expecting him to develop into a very good player. He has problems in his game and if he deals with them in a positive way, then I think we will have a very good player in our hands.”
He also informed the media of the possible injuries before the game, “We have lack of availability (of players) coming straight through quarantine…Jacob Tratt will not be ready for the first game. We’ve got a couple that we’re going to wait and see that have got a slight strain. Jerry (Mawihmingthanga) will not be available for the first game. So, we do have our challenges on that front.”
In his concluding remarks, Stuart Baxter seemed worried about the number of injuries that might pile up in this unique season. He expressed, “I think the injuries in all the leagues are 250% up. I am guessing it’s going to be exactly the same in the Indian (Super) League, so that’s a challenge for the coaches in terms of rotation.”
“We will have to be a bit lucky with our experienced players. We have to have a feeling of when we can or can’t rest them. Hopefully, the squad will stand up because it’s going to be more than ever a squad thing this year,” he concluded.