On April 20 2012, Dempo Sports Club earned a goalless draw at home against fellow title contenders East Bengal to clinch their fifth I-League crown. In less than 12 months though, Dempo have relinquished their crown and are in danger of finishing outside the top four for the first time since 2006, but more importantly they could face a summer of major transition.
Armando Colaco, the mastermind behind the five league titles of Dempo, a club where he also had a playing career, is expected to leave the Goan outfit after this season. Although his departure is yet to be confirmed, the 59-year-old has publicly admitted that he could end his 13-year coaching stint at Dempo at the end of this season and would consider offers from elsewhere.
After undergoing an angioplasty to remove three blocks in his arteries in December 2011, Armando had hinted that he could retire soon but only after he had successfully built another Dempo team, and thus the possibility of him joining another club will come as a shock to not only the Dempo fans but the whole Indian football fraternity.
But the transition for Dempo doesn’t end with Armando’s possible exit as they are also likely to lose around eight senior players next season. Climax Lawrence, Mahesh Gawli, Clifford Miranda and Samir Naik could all end their association with the Goan club at the end of the season as club chairman Srinivas Dempo is aiming to launch a major rebuilding project .
“The average age of our team, for last few seasons, is above 29 years. And that has been causing injuries and finally hampering the performance. Otherwise, we had an excellent start in the I-league this season also. But as the league wore on we began to lose our key footballers due to injuries. So my realisation is that we should build up a team that should not have any player whose age is above 30 years unless he is extra-ordinary,” Srinivas Dempo was quoted saying.
Some of those experienced players are certainly past their peak and thus the rebuilding somewhat makes sense, but getting rid of all those senior players together would certainly leave the Goan club in transition, and that was unimaginable 12 months ago.
Just a month after securing their record fifth I-League title, the news of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s interest in buying stakes of the club looked to be the start of an even more successful era for the Goan club both on and off the pitch.
A possible name change and increasing the fanbase were also discussed and even though that didn’t materialise, Dempo started the 2012-13 season very well as they reached the Federation Cup final, losing to East Bengal after extra time.
Although goal machine Ranti Martins left for Prayag United after an eight-year spell, Japanese Ryuji Sueoka was signed from Salgaocar while the capture of former Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur player Rohan Ricketts sent out a title warning to rest of the league. Ghana international defender Stephen Offei was also roped in.
Dempo started their I-League defence well, winning against Churchill Brothers in the opening weekend and were the early pacesetters. But the fallout between Ricketts and Armando was made public by the former on his Twitter profile and it proved to be the catalyst of Dempo’s slump.
Following the outburst on Twitter, Ricketts was repeatedly benched but injuries saw the Englishman get a few starts and he was instrumental in maintaining Dempo’s consistency until mid December. But that didn’t change the relationship between Armando and the former EPL player, and after another outburst on Twitter and some reported allegations in the media that the Indian coach had asked him for money, the Englishman mutually parted ways with the club.
Meanwhile, Offei was also released without even making any I-League appearance while Dempo also pulled out of the AFC Cup, citing financial constraints.
After the turn of the new year, Dempo’s form started to dip further and injuries started to take its toll on a thin looking squad, with top scorer Sueoka a long-term absentee. The Dempo squad was in fact reduced to bare bones as there were injuries in almost every position and the additions of Liberian John Menyongar and young Prathamesh Maulingkar didn’t improve their form.
Dempo’s form in 2013 has been extremely poor as they have managed just one win in ten and lost their last five matches. It is certainly not the form they would have wanted before facing champions-elect Churchill Brothers on Wednesday.
Experienced midfield Climax Lawrence has rued injuries and the inability to replace Ranti’s goals as the reasons for their misfortune, but the public fallout between Armando and Ricketts and the lack of strength in depth in the squad were also key factors.
Retaining the title is never easy but what will concern the Dempo faithful is that they face an uncertain future next season because of the impending departures of Armando and the several senior players. A club that was looking to build on a record five titles is now in danger of facing a period of major transition.
12 months is a long time in life, let alone football, and the drastic change in Dempo’s fortunes is proof of that.Published 16 Apr 2013, 19:40 IST