A week ago, on the 29th of February, FC Goa rocked up in Chennai, hoping to continue their upward trajectory and establish a first-leg advantage that would enable them to keep dreaming of a maiden ISL crown.
However, rather uncharacteristically, the Gaurs capitulated, as Chennaiyin FC razed them down and made the net bulge on four occasions. Subsequently, the visitors, despite Saviour Gama’s strike, stared down the barrel of a semi-final exit as they made the trip back home.
Unsurprisingly, several expected the cracks to appear in the 2018-19 finalists’ side, with many even predicting that they’d wilted when confronted with the slightest bit of pressure.
Yet, on the eve of the game, Ahmed Jahouh, in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, put paid to such notions and chatted openly on what went wrong at the Marina Arena and the aspects the Gaurs needed to rectify come Saturday.
I think we gave our best, but it was just not our day. Till the break, the game was really balanced. After the break, they were able to make the most of their opportunities and kudos to them.
The defeat at the Marina Arena, apart from deflating the FC Goa faithful, also posed a much more important question, which revolved around whether the club had truly recovered from Sergio Lobera’s departure and if the new management was equipped enough to finish the work that the Spaniard had started in 2017.
While Jahouh acknowledged the adversity of the circumstances encapsulating the club, he stressed that the transition had been as seamless as possible and that the Gaurs intended to not undo the hard yards put in previously.
Any sudden change - whether it be in your personal or professional life brings a disruption. You have to acknowledge that. It takes some time to adapt. At the end of the day, we are all professionals. We had to keep fighting for the club, and for ourselves.
He further elaborated,
We were at the cusp of something great and nothing really deterred us from that. The new guys who came in were people who we already knew. Derrick (Pereira) was with the team a couple of seasons back and Clifford (Miranda) had been the assistant since the beginning of the season. The playing style remained the same whilst they helped us plug in some loopholes. It was a smooth transition.
In fact, since Clifford Miranda’s instalment at the helm, FC Goa have refreshingly been as effervescent offensively, if not more, as they were under his predecessor. On countless occasions, the Gaurs have sliced through their opponents like a knife through butter, meaning that they’ve invariably made the net bulge numerous times.
Though the likes of Ferran Corominas and Hugo Boumous have predictably been at the forefront of that charge and have deservedly hogged the limelight, those following FC Goa would also testify that the importance of Jahouh and Lenny Rodrigues couldn’t be stated enough.
A midfielder capable of blending silky skills and steel, the Moroccan has epitomised the Gaurs’ playing style over the past few years, courtesy the combination of grit, determination and the adventure he has portrayed on the ball.
On being asked what particular facets he tried to master in training, Jahouh replied that the emphasis remained on practising situations where players were forced to make decisions swiftly, thereby allowing them to replicate the above adequately in matches.
As for Lenny, his partner-in-crime in midfield, Jahouh quipped,
Lenny (Rodrigues) is a tremendous professional. He is not only a good player, but a great human being off the pitch. He really puts in a hard shift and helps me concentrate on my game. You can’t eliminate mistakes from the game of football, but with Lenny besides you, there is a level of comfort because you know he will have your back.
Furthermore, he opened up on how the pair flourished from the outset, in the process, enabling FC Goa to control games in the centre of the park.
We clicked right from the get go. He has taken to our way of playing like a duck to water. Over the past two seasons, his impact on the team has really been tremendous. He is one who is not only respected on the pitch but also in the dressing room.
Thus, as the Gaurs face their moment of reckoning, one feels that Jahouh and Lenny might have to stand up to be counted, akin to several occasions before.
However, despite the pair embodying the brand of football the club wants to profess, the Moroccan maintained that come Saturday, the sole criteria for success remained an overwhelming victory, irrespective of whether the duo or indeed his side conjured mind-boggling passing numbers.
The most important thing for me as well as every other player on the FC Goa team is to play as a team. We know our duties; we know the way we want to play. We love to play with the ball and hence the numbers in terms of passes. Those numbers are really not something that fascinate me though. At the end of the day, it is a win that matters.
And, pleasingly for the Gaurs, Jahouh seemed extremely upbeat ahead of the clutch clash, stating that such occurrences needed to be cherished, rather than being daunted by it. Additionally, he also talked about how they were excited for the encounter and now boasted a plethora of resources to overturn the deficit.
More importantly, FC Goa, despite the steepness of the peak they hope to scale, would be able to call upon a passionate fanbase at a ground that ranks as perhaps the most vociferous across the nation.
We will have the whole of Goa behind us and I have no doubt that the atmosphere in the stadium will be intimidating for our opponents. I would ask everyone in Goa to be there. The tie is not done yet. The comeback is already on. The first goal came with Saviour’s (Gama) strike and on Saturday, we want to finish what we started at the fag end of that game.
Thus, across an illuminating conversation, the Moroccan’s clarity of thought had swatted aside all beliefs that the club had taken a step back after the chastening defeat in Chennai.
And, by narrating the effortless nature of the mid-season transition, the midfielder also highlighted that FC Goa remained a side that took setbacks in its stride and evolved mechanisms to utilise them optimally, unlike countless other outfits.
Most impressively though, Jahouh had underlined the attributes that made him and the Gaurs tick when it came to sticking to a style that had never been envisaged on Indian shores, especially with sceptics opining that such a philosophy would never produce tangible rewards.
After all, Jahouh & Co. have lived by that sword for the better part of the past couple of years and even if things go pear-shaped on Saturday, they seem prepared to die by it.Published 06 Mar 2020, 14:17 IST