Lucio comes calling

Lucio... age is no barrier.-GETTY IMAGES

In a move that has pleased the fans, the club has signed up local footballers and their arrival has earned the praise of supporters, who have long insisted on giving talented Goans a chance to make a mark on the big stage, writes Ashwin Achal.

The FC Goa squad will miss the services of a few key players from its good run in the inaugural ISL season. The replacements, though capable footballers, have big shoes to fill.

The character of the players was put to the test after a disastrous first-leg, and they responded in splendid fashion to reach the semifinals. The return of striker Miroslav Slepicka, from injury, played a big role in the club’s late resurgence. The Czech international displayed much-needed authority in front of goal, racking up five goals (second-highest in the league) and four assists.

Slepicka will not feature this year — a cause for concern. His replacement, Victor Simoes, comes with the traits expected of Brazilians — a fair dose of samba flair and finishing ability. The 34-year-old veteran began his professional career in 2001, at Flamengo, before making his mark in Saudi Arabia.

Two King Cup of Champions medals with Al-Ahli (2011 and 2012) are his most recent career highlights, and it remains to be seen if Simoes can find his feet on Indian shores.

Andre Santos, who revelled in his role of attacking midfielder, will not return either. Jofre Mateu Gonzalez, who won the ISL with Atletico de Kolkata, will take Santos’ spot. Bikramjit Singh, Mandar Rao Desai and Romeo Fernandes — the trio impressed for FC Goa last season — will aid Gonzalez in the centre of the pitch. However, the playmakers will have to make do without Afghanistan international Zohib Islam Amiri, who is out with an injury.

Another notable absentee this season is goalkeeper Jan Seda, the 2014 ISL Golden Glove winner. His place has been taken by Elinton Andrade, who is best known for his exploits at French club Olympique de Marseille.

The defence, aided by Seda’s presence, kept a clean sheet for seven matches — the most by a team. The core members of the back-line — Debabrata Roy, Narayan Das and Gregory Arnolin — have all been retained.

The marquee player, Robert Pires, did not deliver to manager Zico’s expectations. Zico, a household name in Brazil, reportedly wanted a world-class footballer who could not only draw the crowds, but could also deliver on the pitch.

The scorching Panaji heat and lack of match-fitness had an adverse effect on Pires — he barely resembled the magician he once was.

In comes 2002 World Cup winner Lucio, backed heavily by his new manager. At 37, Lucio’s best days are behind him, but Zico believes otherwise. The centre-back, who has made 104 appearances for the Brazil national team, joins FC Goa after an uneventful year at Palmeiras. That he is still an active player surprises Chennaiyin FC manager Marco Materazzi. “I don’t know what Lucio is trying to do. You have to know when to stop. There’s no point in pushing on,” Materazzi, Lucio’s former team-mate at Inter Milan, told the Italian media last year.

In a move that has pleased the fans, the club has signed up local footballers Victorino Fernandes, Nicolau Colaco and Joaquim Abranches. Their arrival has earned the praise of supporters, who have long insisted on giving talented Goans a chance to make a mark on the big stage.