On the 1st of February, FC Goa shook the footballing fraternity to its core when they decided to do away with Sergio Lobera’s services. To put things into perspective, the Gaurs had sacked a manager that had not just propelled them to the perch of the ISL table but had also blended an irresistible style with an equally efficient end product, something the club had been guilty of lacking through the formative stages of the league.
Subsequently, several opined that the succeeding manager would have his task cut out, considering he had to replace the Spaniard, while also ensuring that Goa didn’t cede the initiative they’d gathered over the opening half of the season.
Yet, rather than fervently searching for a replacement in the foreign markets, the Gaurs boldly opted for Clifford Miranda, an Indian who had been bred on exactly the brand of football that Lobera and indeed, the club has famously preached, over the years.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the current FC Goa manager opened up on how he tackled the challenges when it presented itself and how tricky that predicament was.
When I was asked to take over, alongside Derrick [Pereira], it was a surprise call for me as I was in Leipzig at that time. However, it wasn’t too difficult as the team was already set and my job was much easier. The most important thing though was the management and the players’ support. All the players, irrespective of whether they have been playing or not, have been brilliant in training and that has really helped.
Another facet that aligned itself for Clifford was the club’s propensity to employ a free-flowing brand of football, a trait that is frequently on display, even in the age group categories.
Unsurprisingly, he added that that philosophy was something that the Gaurs looked to deploy at every possible juncture and subsequently, ensured that it became a paramount part of FC Goa’s identity.
However, despite the seemingly spotless nature of the squad, Clifford set about his job diligently and swiftly chalked out the areas that needed a touch of addressing.
There were a bit of loopholes and details here and there, which we worked on. We emphasized on small details and me and Derrick sir tried to rectify those. We asked the players to get into certain positions.
In fact, the minor tweaks adopted by Clifford have actually made the Gaurs an even more dreaded attacking outfit, something which seems pretty ludicrous in theory, considering they’d made the net ripple 32 times before the former Indian midfielder took over.
The likes of Hugo Boumous and Jackichand Singh have particularly prospered, with the latter often popping up centrally and in decisive areas in the offensive third, thereby according the side an extra alternative in attacking movements.
Consequently, the Gaurs’ free-scoring nature catapulted them to commanding victories over Hyderabad FC, Jamshedpur FC and Mumbai City FC in their final three league fixtures, meaning that they finished well above ATK to seal their berth in next season’s AFC Champions League.
In the process, FC Goa also became the first Indian side to enroll itself for the competition. On that accomplishment, he quipped,
Reaching the AFC Champions League is massive. It is the first time an Indian club will be a part of the group stages. It is something that the club had always strived for and shows on everyone’s faces how much they value that achievement.
Having said that though, FC Goa’s upcoming goals revolve around ending their wait for an ISL crown, a year after they fell agonizingly short at the final hurdle against Bengaluru FC.
Yet, rather than dwelling on that loss, Clifford insisted that his side had moved on and were treating each encounter as a different contest.
Last season and this season is different. Every game and every moment is different. Right now, we are in a good moment and we have to challenge for the title. But, for that, we need to navigate through the semi-finals for which we need to work hard and do everything to achieve our objective. And, I can definitely say last season’s defeat will have no bearing on our current campaign.
Thus, despite having scaled many a steep peak in his short stint at the helm, Clifford is maintaining that the worst thing he could possibly do is take his eye off the club’s ambitions, especially the short-term aspirations.
Though there have been plenty of positives over the past couple of weeks, the former Indian midfielder believes the time remains ripe to forego all that has transpired and instead focus on what lies ahead, wherein his side would have to be at their best if they are to end their ISL hoodoo.
From a broader perspective though, FC Goa’s appointment of Clifford following the departure of the ISL’s most high-profile manager cast light on a narrative which hasn’t been pursued too often in the competition.
And, moving forward, as the nation and the league tries to find its feet on the continental stage, the presence of home-grown managers well-versed with the ideals of their respective clubs could prove the decisive tilting scale.
After all, an Indian manager lifting the ISL would provide a much more long-lasting image, wouldn’t it?