FC Goa are probably the most well-run side in the Indian Super League circuit. They are the crowd favourite to lift the ISL title this season. The gaurs have come close to winning the coveted trophy but have not yet cracked the code of winning a final, something they would like to do under the leadership of head coach Juan Ferrando.
It was under Sergio Lobera's stewardship that the Gaurs won the League winner's Shield and qualified for the AFC Champions League. But their luck ran out in the playoffs as they once again failed to bag the ISL trophy. This season the vibe around the tournament is such that, FC Goa will start as one of the favourites especially after the Durand Cup winning campaign in Kolkata.
A strong core
The Gaurs look like a well-knit unit and that was evident in their play in the Durand Cup recently. Most of the foreigners are here for at least a season and have adapted to the conditions and the culture. The club has the right mix of players this season, in seniority and also in terms of temperament. Players like Edu Bedia, Ivan Gonzalez, Alberto Noguera along with Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes and Glan Martins will look to lead the younger players as they step into their first season of ISL action.
FC Goa resonates with the sense of support and stability. The club does not look to make too many changes. They have that patience and judgement to allow a player to gradually get better. Hence the bond around the team created by Juan Ferrando is very positive as the senior professionals are looking out for their younger counterparts.
Ferrando and the fans will hope that the support of the senior professional will make players like Papuia, Muhammad Nemil, Makan Winkle Chothe, Devendra Murgaokar and others flourish at this stage. It is these intangible aspects that help a team grow and differs them from a normal team to a championship-winning outfit.
A professor with the success mantra
A lot of credit has to be given to FC Goa's scouting network and also to Juan Ferrando as well. The Spaniard saw the project left behind by Sergio Lobera and did not try to change too many things. However, he did make some tweaks in their style of play and some tactical changes but overall his template was similar to Lobera's something that helped the players adapt very quickly.
While Ferrando is yet to take FC Goa to the promised land, his ability and tactical astuteness has been very clear during his time at the club. The way he managed the team in the AFC Champions League was a sight behold. The Spaniard and his men were phenomenal as they finished third in a group of four in their first-ever Champions League campaign. Then he replicated that in the Durand Cup and ended up securing his first silverware with the Gaurs.
However, celebrations were muted even after the Durand Cup win as Ferrando and his men have the idea that this is just the start. Winning the ISL trophy will be the final heist this season.
An inexperienced backline
If you nitpick a lot about this team then you may come up with a flaw or two. Similarly, as strong as their midfielder or attack is there defence is not up to that mark. Especially their Indian defenders, lack experience of playing at this level and have not been tested properly. While Ivan Gonzalez will lead the backline for FC Goa, he will be partnered by either Papuia or Aiban Dohling. These two youngsters have been better than Mohamed Ali recently so they should get the nod. Former India U-17 centre back Anwar Ali only be eligible to play from January and despite all his talent, this will be his first season in the ISL.
So there is a chink in the armour for the Gaurs. Ferrando has shown a lot of trust in players like Aiban and Papuia to deliver and they will have to step up this season. Their only fallback option is going with two foreign centre backs by including Dylan Fox in the mix. But by doing that they will disrupt the balance in midfield or attack. Ferrando will look to pair up Jorge Ortiz with Airam Cabrera in attack but if they have to slot in Dylan Fox, things will change drastically. The Spanish tactician may also opt for Alberto Noguera in midfield in some matches to support Edu Bedia in the middle but if they have to play Fox then all the flexibility around the team suddenly vanishes. Therefore it is prime important that Ferrando finds the right partner for Gonzalez in defence.
Can Airam Cabrera deliver?
One of the only questionable decisions from the FC Goa management was when they allowed last season's Golden Boot winner, Igor Angulo to leave and join another ISL outfit. Angulo was a proper fit for this team, he even complimented Ortiz and Noguera's movement behind him and scored a lot of goals from the chances created by them. Therefore to disturb a set pattern was uncharacteristic from the Gaurs. However, they have snapped up another Spanish centre forward in Airam Cabrera. The 34-year-old has plied his trade for lower-division Spanish clubs such as Villareal B, Cadiz CF, Cordoba, etc. Cabrera has also featured for teams in Poland such as Korona Kielce, Cracovia and Wisla Plock.
There is no doubt that Cabrera was once a prolific goalscorer in the lower divisions of Spain and also in Poland. The last time he performed to his potential was in the 2018-19 season when he was in Poland featuring for Cracovia as he netted 14 goals from 27 appearances. Since then he has struggled to find the target and even struggled to get game time.
But one must not judge him by his past accolades. We have seen a lot of times that foreign players with underrated resumes have performed exceeding well on Indian shores. Similarly, players with high profile resumes have also flattered to deceive. The gaurs will want Cabrera to replicate his predecessors, Igor Angulo and Ferrand Corominas, among them they have won three ISL Golden Boot awards. So it won't be easy for him, things will only get difficult for the 34-year-old as Ortiz is injured and may miss the first few matches. Therefore the responsibility of scoring goals and leading the lines will be on FC Goa's new Spanish forward.