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Looking forward to another pulsating Goa Pro League

Derrick Pereira

The Goa Pro League is back and I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am. As someone who is always on the look-out for the next big Goan superstar, the state league is the perfect platform for budding talent to shine and perform.

As head of youth development at FC Goa, a major chunk of my job is to identify good, young prospects and keep tabs on them. If they score a goal, I want to know. If they are sidelined by injury, I want to know. By the time that I file them under ‘Good Young Talent’ in my dossier, I want to know every footballing aspect of theirs.

Our Developmental Team, with an average age of 19.5, won the Goa Pro League (GPL) last season. Some of these players, including Liston Colaco, Princeton Rebello and Saviour Gama, are now known to the larger audience. We expect the Dev Team to throw up more heroes this year.

The GPL, six decades old, has been the cornerstone of Goan football for ages and continues to be the yardstick by which all local footballers are gauged. Earlier, the footballing culture – strong as it was – resulted in a strong competition packed with good teams.

The likes of Salgaocar, Vasco and Sesa Goa all made their name in the GPL and continue to – till this day – be teams that players aspire to appear for. For footballers to make it big nationally, the GPL is an important bridge between the national competitions and village football. The state league essentially became an arena to prove one’s credentials and forge reputations.

It is very important to have a strong state league. I remember Calcutta teams actively scouting the league for players, following each and every team closely.

Even though the league has improved organisation wise and has become competitive, Goa needs more focus on it. The village teams such as Calangute and Guardian Angels SC need financial aid and better care to survive and challenge the bigger teams. Grounds have to be maintained and upgraded so that players can perform without fear of injury.

Apart from organisation, more efforts should be made to pander to the crowds. The numbers have gone down but they can be revived by providing better facilities and refreshments. They’re really the driving force behind the league and hence the most important stakeholders. Good turn-outs also force coaches to play a better style of football and put on a better show befitting of the public’s interest.

In a way, the inter-village tournaments act as important pre-cursors for the state league. Enthusiasts first spot these players at lower levels, following their elevation to larger teams and eventually, their careers.

For these ardent followers, it’s about immersing themselves in the player’s career, following him around from club to club, and beyond, if possible. The state league is always ripe with stories to make the fan stand up and take notice.

From a FC Goa point of view, the aim will be the same as last year – to find more and more players for the first team, who may make the step up to the first team. For that, it is important for all of us to go all out in this competition and not treat it as a stepping stone.

Since we have lost a considerable chunk of the starting 11 to the first team, we will have to initially focus on restructuring the team with a focus on picking players from the under-18s and under-20s.

This edition of the GPL will be all about handing more opportunities to those players. They will get a chance to walk in the same shoes that their predecessors did last year, while storming to the title. I maintain that the trophy last year was a by-product of the processes that we had put in. The focus will be on the process again and not the title defence. This, I believe, will set us apart.

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