Apprehension set in many minds soon after the Indian Super League (ISL) Players Draft because the players picked by FC Goa were not the best from the available lot. At that time, the motto being sold was-FC Goa is for players from the State.
It would have been wrong then to pass judgments as few knew the plans new coach Sergio Lobera had for the team or the foreign players he would be roping in. However, it was evident that Pronay Halder and Narayan Das were the two most experienced with Mandar Rao Dessai coming in a distant third.
As ISL begun, the goals began and with them the team crystallised a shape which saw five foreign men doing the work of eleven. These five happened to be the men selected by Sergio Lobera.
FC Goa sat at the top for quite a while and then began to slip. The slip was slow but it was steady enough to undress the truth.
Half way down the line, or perhaps even before, it became clear that the Indian recruits were not the best. To put it clearly, they were far from the best and that is why it was clear that the foreign players signed by Lobera were subsidising the weakness of the Goan players in FC Goa.
A good team is not about how many locals it has but how many good locals it can field.
Many years ago, after an English Premier League match, Arsene Wenger was asked by a scribe why he did not field a single English player that evening. “Give me eleven and I will field eleven, give me none and I am able to field none,” he had said. Perhaps Sergio has a better answer today.
If the FC Goa defense was weak it was because the players given to Sergio were nowhere near the mark. Sergio kept claiming through the tournament that all played as a team and each one contributed to the success of the team. If he hadn’t said so, what could he have?
Right from the goalkeepers there was none in the team that could measure to the standard set by Lanza, Coro ,Jahouh and Edu in particular. These guys were not stars but that had the shine capable of bringing a twinkle back to people who like football in Goa.
FC Goa defensive woes were because none of the new players had ISL experience. Fielding raw legs to quell experienced strike heads is a dangerous risk. Kattimani was counted out from the beginning because his errors could be catalogued from the time Goa lost the finals and thereon. His errors are documented. Mohammed Ali and Seriton were making their debuts. They worked hard. But, hard work is not the only tool used to polish players.
This is not about who played well and who did not or who fit in and who did not. It is about where FC Goa went wrong. The wrong was in the selection of players during the Draft and I am pretty sure Sergio had no role to play in that.
A year ago, when FC Goa had changed hands, the then CEO had claimed that FC Goa would have a high quotient of players from Goa. What actually happened was- players who had not played through the season were signed for huge sums and the blame was thrown at Zico.
It was not Zico’s fault then and it cannot be Sergio’s now.
Sergio could not make any changes during the transfer window because the best players from Goa and India were already out and there were none he could replace. Changing foreign players was not an option because the local players were the problem.
Finishing amongst the top four is not the worst scenario .In reality , FC Goa is one of the few teams to have entered the semi-finals in three occasions out of four. This is in itself a statistic that any football lover can flag.
What hurts a little is that we could have done better. FC Goa had a supply line that could deliver goals. But, weak chains to bolt the defense.
A good football team comprises of the best players. It does not matter from where one is or is not. What matters is the quality of football played and good quality players are available in abundance anywhere, not just Goa.
There were hardly any players from Goa in the playing XI when FC Goa started. Yet, the fans came. Not just because of the owners but because the team played good football. Romeo’s and Mandar’s took shape later.
If clubs in England can attract thousands it is because they do not think of players from their country but the quality of football added to their team. That is their marketing. It does not matter who you are and from where you are. What matters is how you play; how you entertain the fans; and how you take your team along.
Sergio has done a good job in his first year. There was little more he could do given what he was served. He has the time to shuffle his team for the next season. Now, he is the boss who decides who are his best. He can even choose his ball boys.