Alberto Noguera also expressed confidence in the Gaurs’ chances ahead of the upcoming season.

ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters will get the ball rolling in the eighth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) on Friday. FC Goa‘s league campaign starts three days later, when they take on defending champions Mumbai City FC. The Gaurs are regarded as one of the favourites to win the trophy this season, and boast of some big names including Alberto Noguera and Brandon Fernandes.

Both Noguera and Fernandes were vital cogs in the FC Goa side that finished at the fourth spot in ISL 2020-21. While the Spanish midfielder wrapped up his league campaign with eight assists, his Indian counterpart struggled with injury issues.

On Wednesday, both players interacted with the press ahead of the new season. From playing at empty stadiums and the new four-foreigners rule, to fighting their ways in the bio-secured bubble — Noguera and Fernandes shared their thoughts on a host of important topics.

“For us, the supporters are a big part of this game. I am sure all the teams are going to miss them. We want them back and I feel for us and all the teams, they are a big support,” Alberto Noguera began.

Adding to Noguera’s response, Brandon Fernandes mentioned, “It is always good to have fans in the stadium. Last season was sad as we couldn’t have the fans and this year too, we will not be having them. It’s a kind of an empty feeling. I feel football is incomplete without fans. Its going to be difficult but this is how it is and we have to accept that and continue in the season.”

On the new rule regarding overseas players

The authorities have made it mandatory for a team to field four foreigners only, at any time on the field. A decision which may uplift the confidence among the Indian players and benefit the nation, will also add responsibility upon the Indian shoulders.

“I feel it’s time for the Indian players to step up. Having one less foreigner than the last season, it is more important now for the Indian players to step up and contribute more to the team,” Brandon Fernandes felt.

“Obviously we will have four foreigners who are there to help us. It is always good to have them because they help us a lot and we learn a lot from them. This is going to be a challenge for all the Indian players this time,” he added.

Alberto Noguera agreed with his teammate as he said, “I think the same. The challenge for Indians is to prove that they are ready to play next Monday. If they are Indians, locals or foreigners or whatever, I am sure they are ready to give a good performance.”

Brandon on captaincy

Brandon Fernandes was recently elected as one of the captains this season alongside Edu Bedia, Seriton Fernandes and Ivan Gonzalez. Being a senior footballer, it is expected that the Indian international will expect a good display from youngsters in the team and will play a pivotal role to motivate them.

“This is my fifth season at FC Goa and I am one of the senior players. My role will be to help the youngsters. Some of them will be playing their first ISL. For them, it will be a new experience. Keeping calm, trying to learn and improve every day is what they need to do. They just need to wait for the opportunity and when they get it just grab it and try to do well,” the 27-year-old stated.

The time gap between consecutive seasons

It has been eight months since the conclusion of the previous edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) season. Such a large time-gap between two seasons doesn’t seem to be helpful to the footballers. They mostly have to stay at their respective habitats and keep themselves physically fit in order to do well when the pre-season starts.

“I don’t know about the other teams but what I know is that we have prepared well for this season. We had enough time, enough pre-season. We did our preparations very well,” Brandon Fernandes claimed.

It is worth noting that the Gaurs were among the teams who started their pre-season camp the earliest.

FC Goa’s ISL 2021-22 squad

FC Goa have retained most of their side and bolstered the team with some key inclusions. But are they an even better side this time out? Alberto Noguera feels that the team are improving.

“I think yes. Probably we are improving our level. That’s not because of the players, rather we know each other better. Like Brandon said, we did a great job with pre-season. We are looking forward to make a good performance this year. We need to prove ourselves and give our best this season,” he explained.

The Gaurs have unquestionably been the most consistent side in the past four years, but have not bagged much in terms of silverware. They have been to the semi-final four times, only winning the League Winners’ Shield but not the league itself.

“Of course, we played the semi-finals in all the four years and once the final. It is very disappointing but we got another opportunity now. We are working as a group. We have the same setup this time too. We have to rectify the things we didn’t do last season, see what we can do better.

“I feel this is our opportunity. All the players have the hunger to win this time. We will take game by game, try to do well in every match. The objective is to win the ISL but we will take it step by step,” he further added.

AFC Champions League experience

Playing in the top flight of Indian football, it is a dream of every footballer to step out in the AFC Champions League. Fernandes is no exception, and he wants to be there again.

“It is one of the best tournaments in Asia and to play it I would be ready any time. We need to win the league. We are looking forward to have a good season and qualify for the AFC Champions League. It’s a great opportunity for all of us and we had this opportunity last season to play in the biggest tournament in Asia and we would definitely want to play it again,” he asserted.

On life in a bio-bubble

The bio-secured bubble has been depressing to many footballers and coaches in the ISL. The players have faced many problems inside the bio-bubble, primarily psychological in nature.

“We need to face this situation because it is the only way to play in this league. We are sometimes trying to avoid to think the bad things. I prefer to think that we are going to play this year in the bubble. We do different things like playing carrom, these type of things to avoid bad thoughts. The situation is not the best but we need to face it,” said Noguera.

“It’s not the best thing. In order to play the league, we need to be in the bubble and that’s the sacrifice we have to make. It’s difficult to cope with it but it is what it is. We cannot change it. We have this special love for football and if we want to play this league, we have to go through this situation. We have to be positive and take everything that comes to us,” Brandon Fernandes added.

Vision for Indian football

Speaking of his vision about Indian football, Noguera opined, “About Indian football, I feel that the gaffer had great potential to improve a lot. I have just spent one year in India but I am certain they are improving day by day and I think they have a great future.

“If they keep improving this way, this is going to be a free league. I’m sure they will keep this level; improving day by day,” the Spaniard concluded.

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