ISL: FC Goa placing emphasis on possession-style football

FC Goa has benefited from a 20-day, five-match pre-season tour of Spain, where the team competed against lower division clubs. Three victories and two defeats have given the new coach, Sergio Lobera, a fair understanding of his players.

Adrian Colunga

Adrian Colunga will part of a six-men Spanish contingent in the FC Goa side for the upcoming season.   -  Getty Images

After spending the first three seasons under the tutelage of the Brazil legend, Zico, FC Goa enters the field this time around with a new head coach. A semifinal and final appearance in the first two editions endeared Zico to the fans, but a disastrous last-place finish in 2016 brought the curtain down on his reign.

The baton has now passed on to Spaniard Sergio Lobera, who started his managerial career with the Barcelona youth team in 1997.

Past performance

2016: Matches played: 14; Goals scored: 14; Top scorer: Rafael Coelho (5); Result: Finished eighth.

2015: Matches played: 17; Goals scored: 33; Top scorer: Reinaldo da Cruz Oliveira (7); Result: Runner-up.

2014: Matches played: 16; Goals scored: 21; Top scorer: Miroslav Slepicka (5); Result: Entered semifinals.

Lobera’s impact on FC Goa has been immediate. If Zico’s team consisted of several Brazilian players, Lobera’s picks have a distinct Spanish flavour. Six players from his country — Adrian Colunga, Eduardo Bedia, Ferran Corominas, Manuel Arana, Manuel Lanzarote and Sergio Juste — have travelled to Goa, while Portugal’s Bruno Pinheiro and Morocco’s Ahmed Jahouh complete the list of foreign talent.

The gaffer, who recently told the Spanish magazine, Marca, that his “footballing education comes from the Barca School of thought”, unsurprisingly lays a heavy emphasis on possession-style football. “But FC Goa won’t play like Barcelona, as I’m not Luis Enrique or Pep Guardiola. And neither do we have players like Messi and Iniesta,” he said in the same interview.

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Midfielder Pronay Halder and left-back Narayan Das are the leading Indian players in the side. The duo were part of the national team’s successful 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification campaign. Local lad Mandar Rao Desai, a fan favourite, can trouble rival markers with his speedy runs down the flank. Brandon Fernandes, another Goan, impressed in the pre-season friendlies, and adds teeth to the midfield. The reliable Laxmikant Kattimani will take his spot between the sticks.

Big things are expected of the young Manvir Singh, a talented striker from Punjab. He recently caught the eye of India coach Stephen Constantine, who gave the 22-year-old his maiden international cap in August this year.

FC Goa benefited from a 20-day, five-match pre-season tour of Spain, where the team competed against lower division clubs. Three victories and two defeats gave the new coach a fair understanding of his players.

Lanzarote, who has three Barcelona ‘B’ caps to his name, spearheaded the attack with four goals. The Gaurs returned to India for a few more friendlies. Its first fixture, against East Bengal, did not go to plan. The match, played behind closed doors, finished 2-1 in favour of East Bengal. In the next outing, against another Kolkata club, Mohun Bagan, FC Goa registered a 2-0 victory. Lanzarote once again found the net, so did his Spanish colleague Corominas.

FC Goa wears a settled look, and the players are a confident lot. Captain Kattimani believes that his team-mates have adjusted well to the coach’s demands. “Lobera has a very different style of play, compared to what we had before. We are a team that is going to retain a lot of possession, and play on the front foot. With the technically-gifted players in our ranks, we have the opportunity to do a lot of damage,” Kattimani told Sportstar.


Virat Kohli

On the longer ISL season this year:

‘Having two new teams this year is a welcome addition. It adds to the competition, and makes the season longer. I think it’s great that we have a longer season now. This allows teams to plan in a better way, and have a proper system in place which can deliver in the long-term. It is closer along the lines of the big football leagues around the world. The players too get a sense of belonging.’

On the key to team’s success:

‘The most important attribute needed for a team’s success is a good team culture. This can be done only by those who are inside the group. Obviously, the owners and the others can provide support, but it is only the players and the team management who can create a good atmosphere. This will help the players become a family, one that is built on trust and good energy. Once this is accomplished, everyone will play for each other, and personal milestones will go out of the window.’

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