The 2012-13 campaign has been a landmark season in the six-year history of the I-League as we have seen some high-profile foreigners in action. At the start of the season, Dempo had former EPL player Rohan Ricketts while Prayag United signed former Costa Rican World Cupper Carlos Hernandez.
Some of those quality foreigners, like Ricketts and Churchill’s Lebanese duo Bilal Najjarin and Akram Moghrabi, left in the middle of the season but the winter transfer window also saw the arrival of a few big names.
The biggest foreign signing of the winter window was undoubtedly Spanish defender Angel Berlanga, who joined Sporting Clube de Goa just two months after representing New Zealand’s Auckland City in the 2012 Club World Cup in Japan.
Berlanga played the full game as Auckland were beaten 1-0 by Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the opening game of the competition which Chelsea lost in the final to Brazil’s Corinthians.
So it is somewhat surprising to see the Madrid-born player ply his trade in a country that has never featured in the World Cup and this was Sportskeeda’s first question to him during an exclusive chat.
“The possibility to play in a new country was the main reason and with the coach (Oscar Bruzon) being Spanish, it was easy for me to fit into the team. I didn’t think much about India’s ranking. New Zealand are a small country but have played in the World Cup and many of their players play abroad and India being such a big country, I am sure they will improve in the future,” he told Sportskeeda.
Berlanga didn’t have much idea about the domestic game in India but was well aware about the popularity of Goa among foreign tourists.
“I didn’t know much about Indian football but I spoke to the coach and we discussed about the situation of the team and the club. I didn’t have much idea about Indian football so it was a completely new experience. But I visited India last year. I went to Jaipur, Delhi and Mumbai and heard that Goa is a great tourist destination and after being here I realise that’s correct,” he added.
Having a player with Club World Cup experience in the dressing room is bound to be positive for any I-League club and that has certainly been evident in Sporting Clube’s revival in the second half of the season.
Since Berlanga’s scoring debut in the 2-0 win over Churchill Brothers in January, the Flaming Oranje have recorded 20 points in nine games, losing just once. That run has seen them rise from the relegation zone to the top half of the table and Berlanga has been instrumental.
“I have enjoyed my time here especially because the results have been great. We were close to relegation but now could finish fifth or sixth. The club have been great to me and I am happy to have contributed to their improvement,” said Berlanga, whose contract with the Goan club runs till the end of next season.
The only defeat that Berlanga has suffered in the I-League was the 5-1 loss at home to Mohun Bagan and thus, unsurprisingly, he picked Odafa Okolie as the most dangerous opposing striker.
“Odafa scored a hattrick and was in great form in that game when we went down to ten men,” Berlanga recalled.
Looking back on his appearances in the 2011 and 2012 Club World Cups, Berlanga expressed his desire to play in that competition again in the future.
“Playing in that tournament twice is definitely the highlight of my career so far. It was an unbelievable experience because everything there was world class. I was delighted to be part of a competition that had superstars and some of the best teams. I am only 26 so I hope to participate in it again,” he concluded.