During his hour-long chat over Instagram live, the young owner of the Juggernauts sketched his idea of building a fully homegrown squad in years to come.
- ‘I want to grab every single Odia talent to the club’
- A short-list of three Indian coaches has been prepared and announcement will be made soon
- Sandesh Jhingan can be the captain the coach will want
The recent episode of ‘Lets Football Live’ took a shift from its traditional players’ roster, as the guest this time was Rohan Sharma, the president of Odisha FC. The discussion was hosted by senior anchor of Start Sports India, Anant Tyagi where Sharma was seen giving a bird’s eye view of the club’s plans.
Answering to the introductory question about what got him into football, Rohan Sharma said, “It’s some sort of a love story. I grew up watching American football or soccer. Suddenly, one day, watching Indian Super League games on TV made me scream wow. Initially, I was trying to get some shares in any MLS side, but then dad (Dr. Anil Sharma) said— No we must invest in India, as we are Indians. Initially, I was pushing for Ahmedabad but later I found Delhi Dynamos is for sale.”
“I was not interested in moving out of Delhi, despite the fact that the decision was already made. After my father’s meeting with Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik, we were so impressed about this place. In Delhi, we don’t have a cohesive culture like Kerala or West Bengal, but Odisha has that. The government here is very supportive and Bhubaneswar is a peaceful city as well,” added the boss upon being asked about what made him choose Odisha as the new base.
Further, commenting on what makes the Odisha move so special, Sharma said, “The last few months in Delhi was a bad headspace. We were facing distance issues and probably that was the factor behind the inconsistency of the squad. The day we arrived at Bhubaneswar airport, we were bestowed by a grand reception that justified every bit of my decision from the very moment. For me, the first season was a success off the field.”
Speaking about the grassroots development at the club, he said, “I am pretty impressed with the job done. We are running U-13, U-15 and U-18 programmes across many cities of the state. Apart from that a tie-up with Aspire Academy has enabled us produce talents like Shubham Sarangi. I want to grab every single Odia talent for the club.”
Adding to that, Sharma also revealed his plans regarding building a women’s team of Odisha FC. “At Odisha, I have those facilities which were not available in Delhi. The Odisha Police women’s team is in brilliant shape and I would love to take that over. If not this year, next year I will definitely build a team that can give tough competition to clubs like Gokulam Kerala.”
“I see every average Indian football fan being very passionate about the game. Every time they are like — Why can’t we do like La Liga or PL? But, in reality, we must be patient and first of all try to do what South Korea or Iran are doing. Before thinking of the world, we must think of the level in Asia. There are visionary investors like Tata and JSW. After 10 years, I am sure that the world will be getting pretty good stories out of Indian football.”
Further, talking about what convinced him to appoint Stuart Baxter as the new head coach, Rohan Sharma said, “I took suggestions from 27-28 people precisely. I had to be careful because I was about to choose the successor of none other than Josep Gombau. He (Gombau) holds a cowboy personality, who can lead the pack to achieve anything. So, I needed someone of his level. I think Baxter fits well in his suit.”
Rohan Sharma has always expressed his desire to make Odisha a club like Ajax and not like Southampton. During the conversation he also talked about building a football dynasty at Odisha. “I want to create a team for a decade,” he added. “The young Indian lads are very loyal.
“But, we must show them equal respect and give them the chance they deserve. I remember Vinit (Rai), Nandha (Kumar) and Shubham; all had better contracts on the table yet they chose to stay. We are also looking for an Indian coach and currently have a shortlist of three people. Assessments are going on and we will announce soon,” Sharma said.
Speaking about the club’s objectives for the upcoming season, Rohan Sharma said, “We are a young team. Champions League qualification would be extraordinary, but we are focused on a top four finish right now. I won’t go for foreigners over 34 or 35 years of age just for the sake of experience. Rather, I am looking for overseas players of around 28. The coach is also looking for some dribblers.” Adding to the statement he also said that, ‘We need a captain,’ which makes clear that Marcos Tebar will not be returning to Bhubaneswar for next season.
Sharma also expressed his desperation to sign Sandesh Jhingan saying, “He (Jhingan) can be a captain the coach wants. If we sign him, on his first home game every audience present at the stadium will be wearing a Jhingan mask I can assure.”
Talking about the club’s plans with Baxter, he said, “We are sending the videos of every facility available with us. He must acclimatize with our systems before he joins us physically. We hold meetings at regular intervals.” Sharma also expressed his desire to build fan parks for screening games in Bhubaneswar and other cities.
Before concluding the conversation, Rohan Sharma expressed his excitement about the things that the new head coach is about to bring. “Gombau was the first good thing to happen with us. We hope Baxter can take it to the next level,” he signed off.