FC Goa are set to be the first Indian club to play in the AFC Asian Champions League group stage…
“Credit to the club, the management, the technical staff, Sergio (Lobera) and now Derrick (Pereira) and of course, the players. Not to forget the fans. Everyone associated with the club deserves it,” said FC Goa coach Clifford Miranda after his team thrashed Jamshedpur FC 5-0 to finish the league stage at the top of the standings. Truer words have never been spoken regarding FC Goa.
FC Goa is a club that can boast of having an identity, a rare feat for clubs in India. When people hear about FC Goa’s games, they know what they can expect. And the plaudits for the formation of such an entity, which is set to be the first Indian club to play in the group stage of the AFC Asian Champions League, should be equally distributed.
First and foremost, the club management deserves credit for bringing in a head coach and trusting his process. When the Gaurs hired Sergio Lobera three years ago, they were not only bringing in a talented trainer but also a philosophy.
The former Barcelona assistant built a magnificent team that played eye-catching football. After the first season under the Spaniard, it was evident that Goa had made an impact with their style of play.
The next step was to retain the core of the squad for the following season. This was crucial to long-term success, especially in India where teams are still being assembled according to the coaches who keep coming in every season. FC Goa successfully retained the core of the squad and that act reaped benefits.
Ferran Corominas won two Golden Boots in a row and the Gaurs continued to play wonderful football throughout Lobera’s second season. The demerits from the first year were the coach’s dislike for squad rotation and defensive issues. The defence improved with Carlos Pena and Mourtada Fall forming a good partnership and young Mohammad Nawaz was a revelation in between the sticks.
Goa have never showcased their plan B. It’s alright to wonder if they even have one. But their plan A was so pleasing to the eye and brutal when it worked, a la Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Jamshedpur, that criticism never stayed for long.
Bengaluru FC remain the Gaurs’ toughest opponent and it was against the Blues that Lobera’s team, after a wonderful league stage last season, lost the trophy to. They clinched the Super Cup after beating Chennaiyin FC in the final but the Gaurs’ objectives remained incomplete.
Like teams that score against the run of play, FC Goa played their least effective football in the first half of the season. They did not look their best but still picked up points and that mattered. They slowly came into their own and were right on top of a three-kegged race for the top spot when a spanner was thrown into their works. The unexpected sacking of Lobera could have derailed the team’s bid but Clifford Miranda took over the reins and won three games in a row to clinch the AFC Champions League spot. However, he was aided by the fact that Goa had three struggling teams to left to play, in Hyderabad FC, Mumbai City FC and Jamshedpur FC.
But it was a job that needed to be done and Miranda got it done.
After six wins in a row, FC Goa secured an unassailable lead atop the ISL table and ensured a place in the group stage of the ACL, an apt reward for the hard work behind the scenes. They could’ve changed their whole team after the first season due to their terrible defence that leaked goals and nobody would have frowned because that had become the norm. (Shoutout to the now-defunct FC Pune City who sacked Miguel Portugal after four games). But they didn’t.
Keeping the sacking of Lobera aside, Goa have shown the path to the rest of the league. It’s time for the others to follow.