FC Goa's gamble to sign just six foreigners in the ongoing Indian Super League (ISL) season was a premeditated decision. The Gaurs made the decision last year after realising that continental competitions, for which they stood a good chance of qualifying, did not allow more than four foreigners.
The club's president, Akshay Tandon told Goal , "We took a call last year, in February 2019, that we were not going to get the seventh foreigner regardless of what the rules were going to be. Even though the league allowed for seven foreigners, we were aiming for Asia and in Asia, we were only going to be allowed four foreigners.
"So if we need to start preparing for Asia, how can we be trying to sign more foreigners for the domestic league. Pragmatically, that didn't make sense," he added.
The move paid off as the Goan side made it to the play-offs and by virtue of finishing first in the regular season also gained a spot in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Champions League group stage.
When asked if ISL should ponder having a maximum of just four foreigners of which one should be an Asian, Tandon felt it is something ISL should be aiming at. "I know that, that is very much the direction in which the league (ISL) is heading towards. How and when they decrease the number of foreigners allowed in the squad in something that they will take a call on year on year, depending on how things are moving and what all the teams want.
"For us, the big question in my mind is what do we do in our next year's ISL team. Do we get our team to start playing the way we need to be playing in the [AFC] Champions League or would that be damaging us in our standards in the local league until we get good at playing with four foreigners?," pondered Tandon.
"This means that we have to change our mix of foreigners, we have to get that Asian foreigner and of that, which would mean that we need a little bit of time for the boys to start playing together well. It's now a challenge which we need to be thinking about. I am looking forward to the challenge of having more locals than foreigners on the pitch. That's very much our goal," he said.
FC Goa have eight Goan players in their squad, all of whom have experienced first team football this season. Tandon explained that developing local talent is one of the foremost aims for the club.
"To say that players are better from one region than the other is, quite honestly, something that I don't buy into. I feel that wherever you are, you [have to] develop the local talent because there is a lot to improve technically everywhere. If you're talking about grassroots and youth football and eventually about competing at the global level, we are still around seven-to-ten years away from that, if we do everything right.
"For us, it's just the obvious thing to do, which is to focus on local talent. Of course, we are blessed to be in Goa where the football fever is very high. But, I would say, regardless of where you are, whether Kolkata, Kerala, Bengaluru, the focus should very much be on developing local talent."
The ISL has followed a gradual decrease in the salary cap for teams over the years and the sixth season saw a reduction from INR 17.5 Cr to INR 16.5 Cr. However, for the intricacies involved, Tandon believes that the salary cap system should be looked at more vigilantly.
"We have always been in favour of the salary cap. We feel that it is important at least for the next five-to-seven years to keep some sort of sanity in the Indian players' market. Otherwise, there will be 10 clubs who are going to be fighting it out over 250 (Indian) players which is going to keep increasing their prices and I feel like it has not yet become an efficient market," he opined.
"Our position is always going to be that we need that salary cap to keep sanity in the market and to not let the big spenders to drive up the price of the local players. But I feel that it is an unpopular opinion within the rest of the ownership groups. So I don't think that the salary cap is going to be enforced strongly.
"We will see what happens, but we are operating with a budget. We are operating with a certain salary cap within our system. The way we are maintaining ourselves on that whole thing is keeping a strong focus on our development team," Tandon informed.