FC Goa appear to have acquired the tag of perennial also-rans over the course of the Indian Super League, having as of yet failed to win a title despite consistently playing some of the most inventive and attacking football in the competition. Under previous manager Sergio Lobera, the Gaurs scored goals for fun, leading the scoring charts with totals of 46, 36 and 42 goals over the course of 54 games in the last three league stages of the ISL, which averages out to an astonishing 2.29 goals per game.
However, while their attack has been miles ahead of their competition, defensively, they have struggled to live up to the same standards. Couple that with a propensity to go missing during the high-pressure scenarios thrown up by the playoffs, and their lack of silverware becomes more understandable. But this year is a year of change for Goa. Sure, some of that change might be unwanted, but it could still work to their advantage. The biggest change is at the helm of the club, with Spaniard Juan Ferrando taking over, after a disagreement between previous coach Lobera and the club's administration resulted in Lobera's departure halfway through the previous season.
Juan Ferrando will lead FC Goa's charge in the ISL in his first-ever season in Indian football. Twitter@FCGoaOfficial
Ferrando is a young manager, who has been involved in coaching since the tender age of 18, having abandoned his footballing career after a string of injuries. He has cut his teeth across a series of clubs in the Spanish lower divisions, and has also managed in Greece and Moldova. While this is his first season in Indian football, he will be expected to slot in quite naturally at FC Goa, with his predecessor having already laid the groundwork for archetypal Spanish football at the club.
Tactically, the club is unlikely to be worlds apart from previous seasons, a statement that midfielder Edu Bedia echoed in an online interaction ahead of the season, saying, "I think we will keep playing the same style of football. We will be more organised in defence and attack. The tactical concepts we have learned this year will help us to grow."
"This year we will have more tactical nuance which will improve the team. Previously, some teams who were better tactically, did well against us. I think that may have cost us the title. So with this slight change, I think we can do better," he added.
Ahead of the ISL's commencement, we take a look at FC Goa's strengths, weaknesses and analyse their transfer activity:
It's been a difficult transfer window for FC Goa. They've brought in a lot of talent, but these acquisitions are more reactionary in nature than they are statements of intent, because most of their incoming transfers are replacements for key players they've lost. The strong spine of experienced footballers that they built up so painstakingly over multiple seasons has been ripped out over the course of just a few months. The most notable of the outgoing players, without a shadow of a doubt, is Ferran Corominas, the talismanic Spanish striker who lit up the league with his flair and finishing, and newly-signed striker Igor Angulo has some big shoes to fill in replacing the Gaurs' beloved 'Coro.'
But perhaps Corominas' departure is not the one that will hurt FC Goa the most. Midfield maestro Ahmed Jahouh, attacking powerhouse Hugo Boumous and steely defenders Mourtada Fall and Mandar Rao Dessai have all left the club to link up with the previous coach Sergio Lobera at ISL rivals Mumbai City FC, moves that left the club in dire straits. Elsewhere, Jackichand Singh and Manvir Singh, two proven Indian talents have left to join Jamshedpur FC and ATK Mohun Bagan respectively, while Chinglensana Singh moved to Hyderabad FC.
The players that have been brought in are mostly Spanish, with the exception of Australian centre-back James Donachie, who was signed from the Newcastle Jets, but one key aspect unites all the foreign recruits " none of them have any experience playing in India. Defender Ivan Gonzalez and winger Jorge Ortiz have only ever played in Spain, and Alberto Noguera has had just two spells outside of Spain, one of them with Blackpool in England where he managed to make just one appearance, and a stint at FC Baku in Azerbaijan. While these players do seem to fit well into the vacant roles at FC Goa, the fact that none of them has played in the league will undoubtedly lead to some teething problems for the club in the initial stages of the competition.
FC Goa have always been an attacking outfit, and they have a very strong Spanish set-up at the club, which should make the transition into playing under Juan Ferrando a lot easier. With the COVID-19 bubble ensuring that the entirety of the tournament is being played in Goa, every match will more or less seem like a home match to the Gaurs, and while this advantage will likely fade over the course of the first few weeks, it could help them start strong.
The main obstacle that FC Goa face is the fact that they need to adapt quickly. They no longer have the luxury of a settled first-team squad, as they have done in the last couple of seasons. The players will need to learn how to play as a unit in double-quick time, if they have any hope of qualifying for the playoffs. The coach and several of the new recruits have no experience of Indian football, and at the moment, things really could swing either way for Goa. Meanwhile, the likes of ATK Mohun Bagan, Bengaluru FC and Mumbai City FC, who are Goa's leading title rivals, have all managed to hold on to their best players, in addition to strengthening their teams, so it could be a difficult season for the Gaurs.
As always, I expect Goa to score bucketloads of goals this season and be an all-round entertaining team. While finishing first like they did in the previous league stage seems a bit out of reach, they are more than capable of a third or a fourth-placed finish and a spot in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the club is guaranteed to make history on the continental front, where they will become the first Indian team to compete in the AFC Champions League, an honour they earned after topping the points table last year. If everything goes their way, and the team manages to become a well-organised unit over the course of their ISL campaign, there's no reason to believe that Goa won't be able to impress on a greater stage.
FC Goa Squad:
Head coach: Juan Ferrando
Goalkeepers: Antonio D'Silva, Mohammad Nawaz, Naveen Kumar, Shubham Dhas.
Defenders: Aiban Dohling, Ivan Gonzalez, James Donachie, Leander D'Cunha, Mohamed Ali, Sanson Pereira, Serineo Fernandes, Saviour Gama, Seriton Fernandes.
Midfielders: Alberto Noguera, Alexander Jesuraj, Brandon Fernandes, Edu Bedia, Flan Gomes, Jorge Mendoza, Lenny Rodrigues, Nestor Dias, Phrangki Buam, Princeton Rebello, Redeem Tlang, Jorge Ortiz, Seiminlen Doungel.
Forwards: Aaren D'Silva, Devendra Murgaonkar, Igor Angulo, Ishan Pandita, Makan Chote.