What a fall!

Armando Colaco... "Mohun Bagan had the best balanced team in the I-League."-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Dempo Sports Club, the five-time champion, dropped to the Second Division, while the two-time winner, Salgaocar Sports Club, and Sporting Clube de Goa just about managed to finish seventh and eighth respectively. The performance of the Goan clubs in the 2015 I-League has been nothing short of dismal. By Nandakumar Marar.

The Goan clubs, merrily riding the I-League roller coaster in the last few years, went off the track this season, dropping to the bottom half of the table. Dempo Sports Club, the five-time champion, was relegated to the Second Division, while the two-time winner, Salgaocar Sports Club, pulled itself up just in time to win its concluding league match (against Dempo) and finish seventh in the standings.

The third Goan team in the League, Sporting Clube de Goa, too got its act together in time to finish behind Salgaocar in eight place.

According to the celebrated coach, Armando Colaco, who had guided Dempo to five League titles, there were many reasons for the embarrassment faced by the Goan clubs in the I-League. However, he was quick to applaud Sanjoy Sen’s efforts in guiding Mohun Bagan to the I-League title. “Sanjoy is a successful Indian coach in this age when club managements bring in foreign coaches to win trophies. People like him should be encouraged,” Colaco said.

“Bagan had the best balanced team and players, Indian and foreign, gave everything they had for the side,” observed the former East Bengal coach, who is very familiar with the football environment in Kolkata.

“After Sanjoy took charge from Subhas Bhowmick, the club went through difficult times. Now they are champions. The new goalkeeper (Debjit Majumder came in for Shilton Paul) was a match-winner; he made crucial saves,” said Colaco.

He termed the performance of the Goan clubs this season as “frustrating”. Under Colaco, Dempo had set a benchmark for ball skills, possession football and goal scoring. “They struggled this time because the players took it for granted that their Indian Super League (ISL) form was enough for them to make a mark. I-League is a long tournament, and team-building should be done accordingly so that players retain focus till the end,” the former India coach said.

“Merging youth with experience is critical. Dempo dominated for so long because every season we signed under-23 players and made them train with seniors in order to get an idea where to fit them in the combination. By the time the League started, these youngsters knew what was expected of them, and as coach, I became familiar with their individual game,” Colaco explained.

Happier times... Dempo Sports Club players celebrate their fifth I-League title in Kolkata in 2012. The once champion outfit is now in the dumps, having been relegated to the Second Division.-R. V. MOORTHY

Arthur Papas from Australia joined Dempo as the coach and he drafted talent from Pailan Arrows (a developmental group of Indian juniors earlier named Indian Arrows). He left midway through I-League 2015, forcing Dempo to appoint Trevor Morgan to do the fire fighting. The Kerala Blasters coach, who came in as a stopgap arrangement, was forced to work with Papas’ bunch and he came up short.

“The Pailan Arrows boys were talented, had the energy, but that is not everything. This is where merging youth with experience becomes useful. Seniors know to switch tactics as per match situation. The Dempo teams under me played a lot of ball possession, but we won because the players knew when to change the pace, how to absorb pressure without losing control of the match,” Colaco said.

“Mohun Bagan had young Indian and star foreign players under an Indian coach. Bello Razaq is 30, but look at him playing, he resembles an 18-year-old (the Nigerian was named 2015 I-League’s best defender). Pierre Boya (Cameroon) and Sony Norden (Haiti) were taken in to add glamour (to the team), but both used their experience and reputation to hold the side together and lend confidence to the youngsters,” he added.

Dempo’s relegation to the Second Division, coming on the heels of Churchill Brothers’ suspension last season by the All India Football Federation for failing to meet the AFC Licensing criteria is a big blow for Goan football, especially for the youngsters coming through.

“Do you know how many families in Goa depend on football income? Where will they go? From where will the opportunities to play in the I-League come for them?” Colaco asked. Salgaocar SC and Sporting Clube have survived, but with two options in place of four, and little indication of Churchill Brothers coming back to Indian football, career opportunities for the Goans have shrunk. Fortunately for the football-crazy state, Dempo players collectively approached the management and expressed their determination to stay together and pull the team back into the I-League First Division.

Some of the youngsters in the relegated Dempo squad were part of FC Goa in the ISL, so there is light at the end of the tunnel. And Colaco said that Indian football should take decisions keeping in view the long-term benefits.

Will ISL solve all the problems of Indian football?

“I don’t think so, unless young players and coaches get more exposure,” said Colaco.

He had a suggestion for ISL — to make it mandatory for franchises to induct at least two Indian youth footballers into the main squad, besides having two Indian coaches as assistants.

“Every ISL team goes for a foreign coach. Can every team succeed just because the coach is a foreigner? All coaches make mistakes, even the foreigners. When Indian coaches are part of the coaching staff, assisting the chief coach, then the experience will be passed on. Indian coaches know the locals better, so in a two-month event like the ISL, a foreign coach coming in can use the players to full potential.”

As for the performances of foreign coaches in 2015 I-League, Colaco quipped: “Did every I-League team coached by a foreigner finish on top? Bagan had an Indian coach (named I-League’s best coach). Royal Wahingdoh, coached by Santosh Kashyap, finished third. Mumbai FC finished sixth under Khalid Jamil. They (Indian coaches) need chances to learn from quality foreign coaches.”