The debate would be raging in the domestic football scenario in India – Which is the Mecca of football in the land of 100 billion? The country would be a clear divide between Goa and Bengal. With time, as the popularity of the beautiful game skyrocketed, other states forayed in. Until the corporate revolution happened, Bengaluru FC were unheard of.
However, as the Indian Super League took birth, the century-old Goan clubs started to pull out of the race. Their coffers were depleted and names like Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa withdrew from the I-League.
A trickle down effect must have hit the ISL counterpart of the football crazy state. FC Goa, with their superstar coach, Zico, have not laid their hands on the coveted trophy in any of the previous editions. It might seem a bit harsh, considering only two editions of the tournament have been played. However, the legacy of Goa is hard to ignore.
Promising previous editions
In 2014, FC Goa’s run was halted in the semi-finals as they crashed out to Atletico de Kolkata. In 2015, it was being dubbed as the year when the Gaurs would win it all. But two goals in stoppage time broke the Goan hearts and Chennaiyin FC emerged the champions.
Post final, the FC Goa officials were involved in a fracas with Chennaiyin players. An enquiry was made and the club was fined for misconduct. The ISL Regulatory Commission banned the owners for a number of seasons. Eventually, the team found themselves a new owner and vouched for a better disciplinary record.
Third time unlucky?
2016 - FC Goa became the first side to field 9 Indian players and Zico was hailed as the messiah to rejig Indian football. Little was it realised that such a move was more of a compulsion than a choice. With 31 yellow cards and 4 reds, the Goanese side plummeted in the fair play rankings. An erratic disciplinary record meant the team mentality nosedived.
Being runners-up last time, the fans expected their side to clinch it this time. Unfortunately, that seems a distant dream. Mathematically, though, there is a slight window of opportunity that might see the Gaurs secure a semi-final spot. But currently, that is as good as closed.
Why is it that the Brazilian legend Zico, with hands on his head, exudes a spirit in omnishambles? He is the most high-profile coach to grace the 3-year old tournament. Yet, from the dressing room to the ground, the belief seems to have gone for a toss. He has launched vituperative rants at the referees, lambasting the ground conditions at press conferences, ruing missed chances, but nothing is clicking for the 63-year old Brazilian.
Nicknamed the ‘White Pele’, the astute attacking midfielder had the technical prowess that saw him being revered throughout. But, he could never lay his hands on the World Cup, in spite of being part of (probably) the best Brazilian team in 1982.
Currently, as a coach, a similar fate has befallen Zico. It is, after great reluctance that he had agreed to continue for the third season. If this season, the trophy evades him, it is doubtful he would return to the ISL.
Lack of coherence yields inconsistent performances
FC Goa boast of several young and promising names like Romeo Fernandes, Mandar Rao, Raju Gaikwad et al. But, there is a visible lack of team spirit that has been haunting the side. They are individually brilliant players. As a team, these lads lack direction. The need for a strong need for a leader is palpable.
Conseqeuntly, the performance is mostly shoddy and inconsistent. Having lost the most number of matches thus far, it is indeed unfortunate that the team has to suffer such ignominy.
There has been no coherence in the team building. There is a new striker every season. Last season Reinaldo was their go-to man. This season, the role has been taken up by another Brazilian, Julio Cesar. Apart from Grégory Arnolin, there isn’t a single foreign player who has played for the Gaurs in all 3 seasons. Lucio had been retained for his second stint, but has been rendered ineffective with injuries and suspensions.
A name who has been conspicuous by his absence is Brazilian Léo Moura. His contribution was critical in their run up to the finals. Nobody in the current squad can play the ‘Makelele role’ with such panache.
Zico has been vocal in criticising the referees. Last year, his tirade was directed towards the lack of proper facilities at the away stadiums. His press conferences have mostly been a medium to vent his frustration and launch a diatribe at the extraneous factors. Agreed, the refereeing has been disastrous, to say the least. But the players have not shown a fighting spirit to defy the odds.
A champion team is distinguished from the rest by their ability to bounce back when the odds are stacked against them. That has been missing from this FC Goa side. The coach’s failure to adapt to Indian conditions and style of play might be one of the reasons for such sloppy performances.
With only 3 rounds left till the playoffs, it is a daunting task for Goa to make it to the top 4. But with the fans behind the team, they might pull off a heroic turnaround. The team would be looking at the outcome of other sides’ fixtures with bated breath. Currently, that is the key in unlocking FC Goa’s semi-final dreams.
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