Odisha FC's new head coach Stuart Baxter has vast experience, having been involved in coaching and management for close to 35 years. Their new signing and captain Steven Taylor spent 13 years with Newcastle United, playing Premier League and Championship football. Marcelinho, team's new forward is third on the list of highest goal-scorers in Indian Super League history (31 goals) and first when it comes to assists (18 assists). All of them plus exciting Indian talents like Vinit Rai, Nandhakumar Sekar, Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Shubham Sarangi.
Considering their squad and head coach, this is a big season for Odisha FC and by February next year, they could be serious contenders for a spot in the playoffs.
In his long coaching career, 67-year-old Baxter has worked in countries like Sweden, Finland, Japan, South Africa, and now he arrives in India to find success and prove his pedigree all over again. Talking about success, Baxter found a lot of it in South Africa where he won trophies with Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United. In 2017, he was appointed as the manager of South Africa national team and they reached the quarterfinals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Baxter takes over from Josep Gombau who left after two seasons with the club. Last year, they finished sixth in the table with 25 points, four less than fourth-placed Chennaiyin FC.
" Odisha FC (@OdishaFC) November 11, 2020
Odisha FC not only signed a solid centre-back but also a perfect leader in Taylor. Apart from his Premier League experience, Taylor also played two seasons in A-League, helping Wellington Phoenix FC finish third in the league last season. His likely partner at the back would be Jacob Tratt who also made his way to India from Australia. The 28-year-old who last played for Perth Glory has attracted Baxter's attention due to his physicality and versatility. Both Taylor and Tratt could prove to be big differences as the season progresses.
In the attacking department, Manuel Onwu, Diego Mauricio and Marcelinho have the responsibility of creating and scoring the chances. Onwu made his move permanent after arriving from Bengaluru FC in the second half of last season. At Bengaluru, he could not make an impression but with Odisha, he made a tremendous impact. The Spaniard scored seven goals and bagged two assists in 10 matches. Marcelinho is a known name in the league and Baxter will depend heavily on his skills to break down defences. Striker Mauricio can be a potent option from the bench, at least in the initial few matches until he settles down in a new league. He has played for various clubs in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Portugal and Russia.
Cole Alexander has already played under Baxter in South Africa and the midfielder calls Baxter his sensei. The head coach spoke about bringing in names from South African football and Alexander benefited from the fact that he knew the coach before and both share a good working relationship. Baxter said Alexander will bring a combination of "high energy, character and quality".
Odisha FC take pride in giving talented Indian youngsters a platform to shine. The Indian core from last season has been retained with Jerry, Vinit, Nandhakumar, Sarangi and goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh expected to play key roles once again. Jerry was a standout performer last season, playing 17 matches while scoring two goals and bagging five assists. Only 23, Jerry can make significant improvements to his game and Baxter will hope that the winger will be at his absolute best in the upcoming season.
The combination of Marcelinho and Onwu up front is vital. Baxter will take heart from the fact that both players are not new to the league and both can score goals. If the duo can form a good partnership, the task of making the playoffs will become much easier for Odisha.
In 2019-20, Arshdeep kept only one clean sheet from nine matches and Odisha FC conceded more than 30 goals from 18 matches. Their new signing Kamaljit Singh did not keep a clean sheet for Hyderabad FC last season and conceded 26 goals in 12 goals. Baxter has shown in South Africa that he prefers a defensively solid team that can grind out results. Now that he's in a new league, in a new country, replicating the success he found might take time but he will want much better performances from his goalkeepers. True, this season Odisha FC will have somebody like Taylor to marshal the defence but both Arshdeep and Kamaljit need to step up.
Baxter has said that he will not significantly change Odisha's style of play from last season but he also calls himself a pragmatist. Odisha's Indian players adapted well to Gombau's attacking approach so it will be interesting to see how they will find the middle ground in terms of their playing philosophy for the new season.
This season, the league will be highly competitive, now that ATK and Mohun Bagan have merged and East Bengal have made their way into ISL. Sergio Lobera's Mumbai City FC, FC Goa and Bengaluru FC will also have high ambitions. Odisha FC can make a big impression but they need to adapt quickly to playing under a new manager and maintain their focus in a cut-throat season.
Head coach: Stuart Baxter
Goalkeepers: Ankit Bhuyan, Arshdeep Singh, Kamaljit Singh, Ravi Kumar.
Defenders: Gaurav Bora, George D'Souza, Hendry Antonay, Jacob, Kamalpreet Singh, Mohd Sajid Dhot, Saurabh Meher, Shubham Sarangi, Steven Taylor.
Midfielders: Baoringdao Bodo, Cole Alexander, Isak Vanlalruatfela, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, S Lalhrezuala, Nandhakumar Sekar, Paul Ramfangzauva, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Thoiba Singh, Vinit Rai
Forwards: Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Diego Mauricio, Laisham Singh, Manuel Onwu, Marcelo Pareira