The Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 readies itself for a top of the table clash that will go a long way in determining the eventual League Winners Shield champion of the tenth season of ISL.
Odisha FC and FC Goa occupy the first two places respectively in the league at present, and they are set to square off at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.
The two teams are solid contenders to stake a claim for the biggest honours at the end of this campaign and this game can help the Juggernauts, currently at 30 points, to build a reasonable distance with FC Goa (27), despite having played two games more (13) than the Gaurs (11).
It will be an encounter that will bring back a host of memories and emotions for Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera, who entered the shores of Indian football with FC Goa in 2017. Over the years, the Spaniard has gone on to record his name as one of the finest tacticians to have graced the ISL, seeing success both with the Gaurs as well as Mumbai City FC.
However, he is one coach whose impact has been felt beyond silverware. Right from his stint with the Gaurs, the Spaniard has helped provide a platform for young Indian players and propel them to achieve the national team call-up.
“We will see big stars coming out of Odisha FC in 4-5 years”
Several players like Brandon Fernandes, Manvir Singh, Lenny Rodrigues, and Mandar Rao Dessai, amongst others began representing the Blue Tigers whilst playing under Lobera at the club level. Similarly, the tactician wants to replicate that pattern with Odisha FC, with players like Isak Vanlalruatfela, Lalthathanga Khawlring, Jerry Mawihmingthanga amongst others taking giant leaps with the Juggernauts in his watch.
“Individuals shine when the team does well. Odisha FC have a number of young players with an amazing future. One of my main jobs is to increase the number of players playing in the national team. I did this in FC Goa. When I went there, they had only one-two players playing in the national team, and then a lot of players went to the national team. This is also my target in Odisha FC,” Lobera said.
He added, “They have a great future, but also a good present, because they need to help us to achieve results, as we are in a professional setup and we need to win. I am very excited with the job we can do with some players in the future. We have young talent and in four-five years, maybe some of these players will be big stars in Indian football.”
“Indian youngsters are always keen to learn new things”
Lobera went on to add that he would be a teacher if not a football coach, simply because of the love that he has towards imparting knowledge amongst youngsters. On that note, he has been particularly pleased with his experience of working with budding Indian players. He speaks highly of their grasping power, and their keenness to learn newer aspects of the game. The head coach said that he takes active interest in understanding them on a personal level, as they are emotional beings and whatever occurs in their life off the field has a massive impact on their on-field performances.
“India is a special place to work with Indian players, because they want to learn a lot. They listen to everything that you tell them. It’s important to understand their personal lives. There are families behind these players, and if you get success by doing a good job in clubs, your life can change. As a coach, it’s very important for me to improve the level of players, but it’s also important to help players in their personal lives and situations, because if you want to have a good situation on the pitch, you need to have stability on the pitch too,” Lobera said.
Both FC Goa and Odisha FC resumed their ISL campaigns with convincing wins against Hyderabad FC. The two teams have climbed up the ISL ladder since appointing Manolo Marquez and Lobera at the helm ahead of this campaign.
Both Spaniards have had a tremendous impact in the ISL since arriving in India, and their face-offs have always generated genuine interest amongst fans.
A late winner by Jay Gupta had helped FC Goa get the better of Odisha FC in their fixture earlier in this ISL season and Lobera will be keen to make amends to that in Bhubaneswar on Friday.
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