The story behind the Gaurs’ successes at all levels is quite inspiring.
For years, Indian football has been striving to work upon its development. Coaches as well as players with experiences at the highest level of European football have plied their trade with clubs in India of late. When asked the way forward for the sport in the country, they’ve all pointed out at one aspect —development at the youth level. And as far as youth football is concerned, FC Goa are one of the first names that strikes one’s mind.
The league-phase winners of Indian Super League 2019-20 have made quite an impression for themselves in that aspect. Since the last century, the state of Goa has produced numerous national team players as well as coaches. And FC Goa have ensured the trend continues by introducing a host of talented youngsters in the Indian football scenario.
But how? How has the club, established in 2014, made this possible? Let’s delve deeper into how FC Goa have put in place a robust youth football structure and are now aiming to build a legacy for themselves in Indian football.
The progress of FC Goa senior team in recent seasons shows us a glimpse of the excellent work that has been put behind right since the club’s foundation. Built with the primary aim of supporting and promoting local talent, the Gaurs set themselves on a mission right from the start.
And despite the change in management a couple of years later, the core values at the club remained the same. In fact, the change spurred the progress that they were making so far. And their mission? To establish themselves as a self-sustaining entity in terms of producing players and unearthing talent within the next seven years.
We have seen FC Goa demonstrate possession-based football in the ISL since the past couple of seasons. But how do they make it happen so smoothly? Well, that is a result purely based on the unique method of training they follow. They call it ‘maximal training.’
First introduced at the club in 2015, the idea is to work on several aspects of the game at the same time in all training sessions. This includes technique, tactics, physical and mental aspects that are collectively worked upon in each training drill. Through this, they ensure the players are clear with their communication and decision-making – two core tenets that are vital in one’s performance on the pitch.
Interestingly, this philosophy is followed at each level of the FC Goa pyramid — starting from the grassroots, U-13, U-15, U-18 to the developmental team and of course the senior team. Now one might wonder how the club implements this philosophy among the age-category teams and especially at the grassroots level. However, at this stage, it’s more about generating an interest about football and learning the core values at the club.
To begin with, development at the grassroots level is the equivalent of sowing seeds at the right time so as to ensure a good reap. At FC Goa too, kids are nurtured with the sense of football right at the age of 6 to 12. This is where the Forca Goa Foundation — sister concern of the ISL outfit, comes into the picture.
The Foundation aims at generating interest for football among the kids along with developing a basic understanding of the game. Here, the Junior Gaurs League is something that the club uses as a tool to imbibe a competitive spirit right at the young age. After all, healthy competition helps breed better talent.
From this stage, the kids move up the ladder to more football focused stages — the U-13 team and subsequently the U-15 team. Moreover, with the Centres of Excellence also in place, FC Goa channel the talented prospects into the U-15 team. These are the age groups where a player undergoes natural physical changes. Keeping the same in mind, FC Goa have designed the training regime in such a way to help the players maintain balance between physical as well as mental fitness.
More importantly, it is at this stage the philosophy of maximal training is induced into the players. Further, the club’s training methods are designed in a way keeping in mind the unique characteristics of the players from the region. And the results are there for everyone to see.
For instance, FC Goa U-15s recently took part in the Next Gen Mumbai Cup, along with the U-15 teams of some of the best youth setups not just across the country but the Premier League as well. And boy did the Junior Gaurs leave an impression!
The team succeeded in edging Bengaluru FC and Reliance Foundation Young Champs. But their biggest success was defeating the U-14s of Southampton FC in the final round of the tournament.
“Competitions like Next Gen are very important for the progress of Indian football. If there is a continuum of such platforms, we will see an abundance of Indian players developing in terms of technical and mental aspects,” says Antonio Prestly Pereira, FC Goa U-15 coach.
When asked his pick for a standout performer in the tournament, Pereira said, “With due respect to all the players, as a coach, I would love to say football is a team sport and to identify one player is unfair. But at the same time extra efforts were contributed by Micky Dias (goalkeeper), Prajay Gawde (defender) and Salgeo Dias (striker).”
Moving on, the players who have till now become well-versed with the club’s philosophy make their way into the U-18 team. Having already been groomed in the maximal training method for years, the transition becomes much easier. Rayan Menezes and Bryson Fernandes are the best examples in the U-18 team currently. Coming through the lower rungs at the club, the duo has progressed right under the guidance of coaches at the U-13 and U-15 levels respectively.
“I am very optimistic that they will make it to the top within next three years,” stated Gavin Araujo, FC Goa U-18 coach. For someone who has been at the club right since the inception, Araujo has enjoyed a lot of success with the team in the past couple of years.
Under his tutelage, the U-18 team qualified for the final round of the Hero Elite League for the third season running. While they reached the semis last time around, this year they raised the bar by qualifying as the league toppers.
When asked the secret behind the success, Araujo credits the maximal training method that allows the players to deal with situations in the best possible manner. This is a stage where FC Goa help players learn to deal with strategies and traits of the opponents. For instance, overcoming strength with a high intensity game and overcoming speed with the ability of game-reading.
Then comes the developmental side — the final stage in which a player gains enough experience so as to move into the senior side. The FC Goa developmental side competes against the top teams in the Goa Pro League including Churchill Brothers, Salgaocar FC, Sporting Goa and Dempo SC. Rubbing shoulders against the top players from the state as well as across the country counts as a great experience for the youngsters in the developmental side. At this stage, players are required to gain as much competitive experience as they can and the Goa Pro League is a great platform for the same.
This is a typical progress graph of a player at FC Goa before he is promoted to the reserves and subsequently to the senior team. The level of effort put in by the coaches as well as other backroom staff is something that deserves appreciation.
Meanwhile, it is necessary to understand another dimension to youth development at a club. One aspect of youth development is to nurture the players right from the grassroots level. Another is to scout the existing raw talent and polish it over time using adequate training methods that are in line with the club’s philosophy.
And when it comes to scouting, FC Goa leave no stones unturned in unearthing the best talent to suit its philosophy. “Major characteristics that we look for is technical ability, possession of the ball under pressure and the ability to find space for the teammates on the pitch,” revealed Lokesh Bherwani, the club’s Senior Manager – Player Recruitment, Scouting and Analysis.
“In Goa we have a very strong network of scouts and coaches who help us to identify talent at a young age. For instance, Joaquim Crasto, has been a scout with the club for over three years now and is a crucial part of the network. He has been instrumental in helping the club identify some really talented players who could potentially become first team stars in the years to come,” he added.
Ultimately, it is the strategic implementation of uniquely designed methods of training that give meaning to development of youth at a club. And with Derrick Pereira at the helm of the youth structure, FC Goa have been assured of success at each level. For someone who knows Indian football inside out, Pereira has been the mastermind behind FC Goa’s perpetual progress towards becoming one of the best youth setups in the country.
“Our President Mr. Akshay Tandon has a vision to develop Goa’s talent like it used to be earlier and ensure that more players from the state make it to the national team and play for India. We want to revive that footballing culture and starting early is a key component of our vision as a club. In due course, we will surely be successful in achieving our dreams,” stated the FC Goa Technical Director and Head of Youth Development with great optimism.
By now, we have understood how FC Goa, as a club, have taken a big step by building a solid youth development structure. Young stars like Bryson and Rayan are just a testimony to the talent they can produce in the years to come with due support from their well-designed scouting network. To conclude, by forming one of the best youth development systems in the country, FC Goa are assured of creating a legacy for themselves in not just India but in Asia.