Lucian Goian is no stranger to Indian football, having been a regular feature in the Indian Super League (ISL) ever since the third edition of the tournament back in 2016. Commanding, committed and never someone to shy away from a tackle, Goian's qualities as a centre-back need no embellishment.
It was no surprise to see him named Chennaiyin FC skipper when he moved down south after three years at Mumbai City FC. Ironically, or even poetically as one's loyalties or the lack of might allow, it was Goian who scored the winner that sent Chennaiyin into the play-offs at the expense of his former side Mumbai City FC.
The Romanian was understandably pleased at scoring such a crucial goal, though it had nothing to do with the fact that the Islanders did not offer him a contract extension after helping them reach the play-offs last season. In fact, Goian maintains he still has good relations with most people at Mumbai City and loves the clubs.
"I was sure that Mumbai will not renew my contract after last season and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed after the performances I put in there. I wanted to stay there. My family loved it there and the people loved me and I made a good name for myself," Goian told Goal.
"But this is football and you have to accept it. You can’t have regrets and when I got an offer from Chennaiyin, I knew that they are a team that knew the recipe to win the ISL because they did it twice. I trusted the project and I trusted John Gregory because he wanted me in the team."
That trust in the Chennaiyin project has paid off well for the 37-year-old. Despite a poor start to the season, the Marina Machans turned it around under Owen Coyle. They embarked on a brilliant run of games that saw them win five out of six games that set them up for a virtual quarter-final clash against Mumbai City. And Goian, who was a mainstay in the team, duly obliged with an 83rd-minute winner at the stadium he called his home for three seasons.
"I can’t describe what I felt (when I scored against Mumbai). It was fabulous. Not because I scored against Mumbai. I have nothing against Mumbai. I have good relations with many people there. I still have a good relation with Jorge Costa. He was one of the first guys to congratulate me for the goal. He is a very good coach but every coach has the right to choose their players. Maybe they were concerned about my age.
"But the most important thing was to help the team qualify with that goal. I didn’t score this season and I was saying that I will score when the team needed it the most."
That he certainly did.
But it was only the culmination to a brilliant fightback that Coyle orchestrated. When he took over, the team had five points from six matches and had scored just four goals. Goian feels the poor start was because of the fact that the team took a long time to gel, given that most of the foreign contingent was new to the ISL.
"We started in the way we did not want it to. But it was very important that we found ways to win again and we did that. It’s a great performance to qualify for the play-offs. We had to deal with a lot of pressure and it was not easy. The bad start was because we were a completely new team. Sometimes, you need time for the players to get to know each other better. We had just one month before the season started.
"We are different characters from different countries and we needed time to gel. We are now a strong and tough group," said Goian.
Goian also highlighted the kind of pressure the Marina Machans had to deal with in order to qualify for the play-offs.
"It was not easy for the coach to bring us to the winning track. Every game in the last seven, eight matches were like finals for us. It is not easy to do that. We had some good away performances, scoring six goals in Kerala and then beating a strong team in ATK. Then the second last game against Mumbai was the cherry on the top. It was a do-or-die clash and we did it."
Next up for Chennaiyin FC is a play-off clash against table-toppers FC Goa who have scored a whopping 46 goals in the league stage. Understandably, the onus will be on Goian as the leader in defence to deal with the likes of Ferran Corominas and Hugo Boumous.
"We are confident because we are in good shape. It is not going to be easy because Goa are a very good team and there is extra motivation for them because the final is in Goa. But I trust our team. If we give 100 per cent and stay motivated, we can get a result. It won’t be easy but it is in our hands," said the Romanian, exuding confidence.
Though he turned 37 recently, Goian is not slowing down. In fact, he has not entertained any thoughts about retirement. He reiterates that fitness permitting, he would like to play for as long as he can. He has made 17 appearances this season and only sat out the final league game against NorthEast United which was a dead-rubber and has impressive stats which read - 2.2 interceptions per game and 2.4 tackles per game.
"For now, I’m not thinking about my career. I want to play. I feel very good. I played all games and did not skip even one training session.
"I would love to stay in India but it is too soon to say right now. As long as I feel good physically and I feel I can play, I will do it. The moment I feel that I’m struggling, I will quit. But now, I am living in the moment."