The only Goan team in the I-League again disappointed their loyal fans by finishing ninth in the league.
It was a dream come true for Churchill Brothers when they were recalled into the I-League last year after a gap of three seasons. With their then head coach Derrick Pereira, they were able to finish the 2016/17 campaign in sixth position. Everyone expected them to do better this season. But, unfortunately, the season did not go as planned. The Red Machines finished in the ninth position and were eventually relegated. Their performance throughout the campaign raised many eyebrows, from both fans and pundits.
Churchill Brothers refused to learn from their past mistakes and suffered a horrible setback. This campaign was no different from the last, as their first victory came in the seventh game of the league in Kerela, where they defeated Gokum 3-2 in controversial circumstances. By mid-season, they were sitting at the bottom of the table.
The Nigerian players who were unknowns to Indian football were replaced by five new foreign players who gave Churchill Brothers a ray of hope, but sadly, it was not enough. Their hard work didn’t pay-off, as a defeat in the last game of the league, forced them to the relegation.
Fact Sheet for Season 2017-18
Season Finished: 9th
Games Played: 20
Win %: 30%
It all started with the departure of Pereira which forced the club to hunt for a new head coach. The club management made sure that the signing of the new coach is done on time. They soon announced Ukrainian Mykola Shevchenko as their new manager. However, the former Red Machines player was sacked after just four matches due to poor performances.
Churchill had a lot of things to learn from the 2016/17 I-League season, but they followed the same path and were hardly active in the transfer market. On top of that, most of their squad including all their foreign recruits were assembled in a short span of time. So there was absolutely no time for them to prepare for the season. The Red Machines played all their pre-season games against Goa Pro League teams, which were not competitive enough as compared to the level where they were going to play.
Underperformer of the Season
Uttam Rai was brought on loan with high expectations, but the young forward failed to deliver and had a disappointing season. He was one of the rising stars of Indian football, who has played for the country at different age-group levels on numerous occasions.
A lot was expected from this young lad, but unfortunately, he couldn’t deliver. Rai made a total of 13 appearances for the team this season and was not included in the squad for the Super Cup. Being a forward, he was unable to score a single goal this season for the Red Machines. Despite having a good pace and techniques, and created a couple of chances for himself, but couldn’t apply the finishing touche.
Top 3 Performances
- Churchill Brothers 2-1 Minerva Punjab (Match Report and Highlights)
- Churchill Brothers 2-0 Shillong Lajong ( Match Report and Highlights)
Gokulam Kerela 2-3 Churchill Brothers ( Match Report and Highlights)
Coach’s Report Card
On a scale of one to 10, Alfred Fernandes deserves a 5.5 or a six. When it comes to the team’s performance, their manager is fully responsible for it. But, in this case, it wasn’t all Alfred’s fault, the management is equally responsible for the downfall of the Red Machines as they did not provide him with adequate resources to mould the Reds into a top-tier team.
The mistake that Fernandes made was that he followed the same script from the start of last season. Even with the limited time he had in the transfer market, he waited until the last moment to get involved in the signing of new players.
This season was similar to the last, as they were sitting at the bottom of the table till mid-season with just seven points out of a possible 27. Alfred then realized some of his mistakes and tried to correct them by signing new players in the winter transfer window which gave Churchill a ray of hope with a 2-1 win over eventual I-League champions Minerva.
Sadly, their hard work didn’t pay off, as a defeat against the same team in their last league match of the season forced them to go down.
After getting relegated, Churchill Brothers took part in the ongoing Super Cup, where they had to play the qualifiers before getting into the main tournament. Their qualifier was against an ISL team, Delhi Dynamos at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. Dynamos took an early lead through Uche’s goal. On the half-hour mark, Willis Plaza equalized for the Reds.
Both teams were pushing for a winner, but, the game couldn’t be decided in normal time. In the second period of extra-time, Plaza’s brilliance gave Churchill a crucial lead in the 106th minute and that saw them book their place in the tournament proper.
The Reds’ round of 16 fixture was against Mohun Bagan. The match began on even ground with Churchill enjoying the majority of the possession. Both sides tried to look for loopholes in the opponent’s defence but failed to threaten enough. It was Plaza again, who drew first blood for Churchill in the 30th minute. However, in injury-time, Bagan were awarded a penalty. The Churchill goalkeeper managed to keep it out initially, but he couldn’t stop the rebound by Asier Dipanda Dicka. So, at the break, it was 1-1.
Bagan started the second half with more attacking fervour and their pressure paid off in the 70th minute when Dicka made no mistake to slot the ball home and give Bagan the lead and a place in the quarterfinals.
Lessons to be learned
There are three ways a team can perform in the top tier of a football league. The first is to avoid any loyalty towards the existing squad and get new signings in an attempt to survive relegation. The second is to bring in players who are familiar with the culture of the league, and the third is to reward your squad every time they give the expected performances at the top level. Sadly, Churchill didn’t do any of the above things which cost them a spot in India’s top league.
After the relegation of the only Goan team from the I-League, Goan football fanatics are losing their hopes on the future of football in the state. With so much talent in its midst, Goa deserves more than one representative in the top tier of Indian football.
It is always very sad to see your favourite club getting relegated. I have been following Churchill Brothers since my childhood days as that time my father used to take me to Fatorda Stadium to watch National Football League matches.
After last season’s performance, I was expecting something greater than last time. Especially when the club CEO stated that they want to contest for the title, I had high hopes from the club, but unfortunately, it did not happen. I will support my club forever. But, I definitely blame the management for the downfall of Churchill Brothers. It is high time for Goan football to do something before the sport vanishes from the state.