Glory, Grandiose, Goa | Know Your Opponent ft. FC Goa


FC Goa 18/19 ISL Season (Courtesy: ISL Media)

If one switches to the Bengali commentary of the 2023/24 ISL matches, they will likely get to hear the voice of Alvito d’Cunha with his slightly Konkani accented Bengali. Exactly 6253 days prior to the publishing of this article, the Goan who made East Bengal and Kolkata his home for 17 long years had scored the winner in EB’s clash against the then mighty Eastern Railways, which led the Red and Golds to their 31st Calcutta League title. “Alvito is a champion footballer, but needs to shed some weight. Once he does that, he will be an asset not only for East Bengal but also for the national squad,” EB coach Carlos Pereira remarked. And shed his weight he probably did because he turned out to be the first Goan to have a largely successful career in Kolkata. He had joined EB from Salgaocar FC, one of the traditional big three of Goan football, the others being Dempo SC and Churchill Brothers. 

Both Salgaocar and Dempo came out from the support of family owned iron ore export companies, while Churchill was formed out of a collaboration of six brothers who started the club with the jobless players from the disbanded MRF team, and was named after the eldest of the brothers. Salgaocar, formed in 1955, was the first club from Goa to win outside of Goa and Mumbai, two environments where the players were familiar to, when they championed the 1988 Federation Cup at Delhi against BSF. The Alvito story mentioned above wasn’t the only time his solitary late goal won his club a competition as that was the case in the 1999 Super Cup too. The Super Cup then was an one-off match between NFL (re-christened to I League) and Federation Champions, Salgaocar being the former as they became the first Goan club to Premier the NFL.

Salgaocar FC (Collected from:

Dempo happened to be the first Goan team to win the Rovers Cup in the 74-75 season. One of their most notable strikers Francis d’Souza joined Mohun Bagan, and scored 17 seconds into his debut for Bagan against Salgaocar in the ’80 Federation Cup. They are known for their progressive approach since they were one of the firsts to sign foreign coaches and players. In 2004 Fed final, in one of the darkest days of Indian football, Dempo SC striker Cristiano Junior clashed against Mohun Bagan goalie, the legendary Subrata Pal, collapsed and passed away few minutes later. Dempo SC eventually won that game, which can be considered as a tribute to their martyr.

Churchill Brothers brought the financial revolution in Goan football. They broke through the duopoly of Salgaocar and Dempo, who had a mutual understanding which led to sub par pays for the players. The Churchill brothers launched several businesses in the fishing and hospitality industries, and payed huge contracts to their players. One of India’s best ever defenders Mahesh Gawli, who is the current India Assistant Coach to Igor Stimac, started his career with Churchill. All information until now has been sourced from the book ‘Barefoots to Boots’, one of the most comprehensive documentaries on Indian football. 

Dempo SC after winning 2011/12 I League (Courtesy: AIFF)

Goan clubs dominated the first six seasons of the I League, Dempo thrice, Churchill twice and Salgaocar once. Goa’s oldest professional football club Vasco came third in the 2001/02 and 02/03 NFLs. After that I League streak, Goan clubs never came remotely close to the I League top positions. Before 2017/18, AIFF announced their plans on making ISL the top division of the country, and demoting I League to the second division without any scope of promotion from I League to ISL, a move with angered Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Club de Goa to the point they broke away from the I League in protest. 

Churchill didn’t as they didn’t want to go against AIFF after they were helped get reinstated to the I League after getting banned in 2015 due to failing AFC criteria. Churchill have performed decent since then in the I League as the came second to Gokulam in the 21/22 season, and are likely to get a mid table finish in the current edition. Thus the gap left by the big clubs from the former Portuguese colony, won over by India through a military operation, and being a Union Territory till 1987, was in a dire need of a replacement which would uphold their dominance in the topmost divisions. Thus emerged FC Goa, an ISL club a formed by none other than the partnership of Salgaocar FC and Dempo SC themselves, who by 2016 had quit their ownership after a ban and points penalty on them (later removed) they considered unfair, post a physical altercation between Club President Dattaraj Salgaocar and Chennaiyin player Elano after the 2015 ISL final. 

I. The Zico Era

FC Goa bowed down in the semis to eventual champs ATK in the 2014 ISL (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Goa’s maiden ISL campaign quite vividly displayed to the Indian football fans how it’s not over until it’s actually over. With 1 win and 2 draws from first 7 games, Brazilian legend Zico was in serious trouble, as he was being grouped along with many other marquee players and managers who were being called out for being casual, unmotivated and only for the money. It was an overall well balanced squad as the Indian contingent was formed from some of the ballers at Dempo such as Prabir Das, Jewel Raja, Narayan Das, Mandar Rao Desai, Pranoy Halder, Halicharan Nazary, Laxmikanr Kattimani and also a seasoned Clifford Miranda, who is the current Assistant Coach to Juan Ferrando at Mohun Bagan. 

There was potential and quality and thus when Zico undertook some instructional and positional changes as left wing back André Santos who had made his last appearance for the Brazilian National team just a year prior and had stints with Fenerbahce and Arsenal, local Dempo boy Romeo Fernandes and Sparta Prague and Dinamo Zagreb hero Miroslav Slepička scored multiple crucial goals which led them to not lose in normal gametime till the very end of their 2014 campaign, where they lose to eventual champions Atlético de Kolkata to penalties in the second leg semi final. 

Zico as FC Goa coach (Courtesy: PTI)

2 losses and 4 draws, but now throughout the entire league season as 20 points from 14 games was enough for 2015 Goa to become the league Premiers, albeit at a time when such a title wasn’t officially rewarded. They lost the first leg of the semi finals against the Dynamos from Delhi but goals from Jofre, Raphael Coelho and Dudu Omagbemi helped secure Goa a comfortable entry to the final, where they got a heartbreak as Chennaiyin score 2 goals in extra time go snatch away their lead which could have provided them the first fruit from the ample investments in 2 years.

After the incident between Elano and Dattaraj Salgaocar, bans and fines and deductions, which although were revoked, Dempo getting relegated from I League and AIFF planning to make ISL the top division without a possibility to enter by sporting merit, the Goan clubs backed away from their stakes of 37% each, which was then bought by Jaydev Mody, head of Deltin Casinos & Hotels, while Venugopal Dhoot, founder of Videocon and Virat Kohli preserved their stakes. Eventually Venugopal was forced to move away after he was caught in a conflict of interest loan deal with ICICI bank which led to his arrest in 2022. With all that ownership saga at a time other clubs were solely invested in proper team building, Goa were busying sorting out their off field stuff which led to a sub par group, lack of training, and thus poor performances and finishing bottom of the ISL, after which Zico was let go.

II. The Sergio Lob-Era

Sergio Lobera as Goa coach (Courtesy: Amey Mansabdar)

When a guy spending 9 years coaching the Barcelona youth team, a year with Barca C, Assistant to Tito Vilanova in Barca first team agrees to come to your local Indian town, you don’t make him just a coach, he’s your manager. Lobera throughout his career at India has always preferred players he knew well and preferably in his former team, and all the Indian clubs were he has stepped foot have been helpful in this regard. At Goa, he brought, for free, a certain naughty eyed cheeky smiled 23 year old French-Moroccan named Adnan. Adnan Hugo Boumous lit up the Indian Super League. Along with him Lobera also welcomed into ISL two more eventual legends: Ahmed Jahouh and Ferran Corominas, who scored 20, yes two zero twenty goals in that season. Lobera’s first season did have a shaky defense but the pure rampage on the attacking department more than enough compensated for it as they somehow managed to enter the playoffs, although then losing out in the semis to eventual champions Chennaiyin.

Next season the Gaurs thought they had it for sure. Stable team, able coach, high morales, Boumous and Coro, and good investments into defense, and they surely came close. Agonisingly close. Maybe the feeling if someone performs a surgery on you without anaesthesia, or maybe something more brutal. Joint highest tally with the highest goal difference at League season end. Premiers? No. It’s a head to head rule and Bengaluru are the League leaders. ISL Champions? No. Rahul Bheke, the local lad of the location of the ISL final decides to score the winner in the 117th minute. It was also the season of the arrival of defenders Mourtada Fall, a player who still plays under Lobera along with Jahouh at Odisha, and Carlos Peña, a name we will get to hear again in this story of the Konkanis.

FC Goa with the League Shield (Courtesy: ISL Media)

So what did Goa do next season? Drop their heads down and curse their luck? No, they win the first officially recognised League Premiers Shield. That’s what Lobera brought, and his warriors did. Also it was the first season they shifted from their Blue to an Orange jersey, so maybe the jinx was real. Coro who had scored 16 goals in his second season now scored 14 in his third. He left the Indian Super League as its highest per 90 goalscorer. Lobera was at the peak of his powers and Goa were looking to become the dominators in the near future, but fate had different plans as Goa’s glory also coincided with the time the mighty UAE Government backed City Football Group made Mumbai City FC one of their own and made a team of ISL all stars with two transfer windows, and such a team couldn’t have been complete without the multiple crucial names at Goa, such as Boumous, Jahouh, Fall, Mandar, and the one and only Sergio Lobera himself. 

III. The Juan-Carlos Transition

FC Goa have to be credited with some of the best coach scouts in the league. They came at a critical juncture yet again when the team was in the desperate need for a special someone to take the club through a period of transition and then continue to become the top guys once again. Last time, it was Lobera, this time a certain Juan Ferrando, who atleast did the helping with the transition bit with the club. A successful coach is one who respects the attack and defense both, which in Indian football had led to the success of multiple big names like Lobera, Manolo, Habas, and Juan also turned out close enough in his stint with Goa, and surely in his Mohun Bagan era. 

When he left Goa, it was a bit of a controversial one. His contract had a release clause, which he himself activated mid season at a time Goa were struggling to join Mohun Bagan where Habas was struggling to maintain the high profile dressing room. That is a story of its own, but Juan in his first Indian club had organised, managed, grew the chemistry between multiple new names and first timers in India or the club, especially in the foreign department which included striker Igor Angulo, midfielder Alberto Noguera and defender Iván González among others, and led them to a fourth place finish, eventually bowing down to eventual champions Mumbai City FC on penalties. He also helped Goa earn three respectable draws against Iranian club Persepolis, Emirati club Al-Wahda and Qatari club Al-Rayyan which earned them a third place finish in their only ever AFC Champions League Campaign.

Juan Ferrando helped out Goa in a transitional period before joining Bagan mid season (Courtesy: FC Goa media)

An interesting trend which has remained consistent till now is whoever win over Goa in semis will then go on Champion the ISL. Ferrando also won over Mohammedan Sporting 1-0 in the Durand Final, thus awarding the Goa first team their third trophy. What was the second? It was the Hero Super Cup where Lobera had won over Chennaiyin in the final of the 2019 edition. 21/22 had a shaky start with three successive defeats, but just as things started to get better with 2 wins and a draw, Juan left and technical director Derrick Pereira became the interim. Derrick is one of the best players arising out of Salgaocar and played there till the end of his career, winning the Federation Cup thrice, the then version of the Super Cup twice, Rovers Cup once, and the National Football League once. As a manager he had won the NFL with Mahindra United, but he wasn’t able to patch up the leaky Goan defense of that season and it ended up being a forgettable one with a 9th place finish. 

This brings us to last season where Goa again managed to not bring proper defensive stalwarts as they couldn’t even qualify for the playoffs even after scoring the second highest number of goals after League Shield Winners Mumbai under new head coach and former player Carlos Peña, a La Masia graduate with ten appearances for the Spain U21 National team. They were in the prime position to finish 6th, which is the playoff criteria 22/23 onwards, but Odisha leapfrogged them after the Gaurs only managed a solitary point from their last four games. It was none the less a very attacking-wise fashionable season to say the least, a sole constant for FC Goa over the years. With the distributive prowess of Edu Bedia, the omnipresent Noah Sadaoui and Iker Guarrotxena lit up the creative and finishing departments, combining, dancing, popping out of nowhere. Such consistent has this club been over the years as this was only the first time they missed out on playoffs on back to back seasons.

IV. The Manolo Era

Manolo Marquez in FC Goa training session (Courtesy: FC Goa media)

FC Goa historically never have had the biggest budget or the best players, but a position they have invested, scoured hundreds if not thousands of profiles before landing on one is the coach and/or manager. With the exception of probably Carlos Pena, they have ensured the presence of highly experienced coaches who have played crucial roles in player development and also have had stints in decent European clubs. Thus, when Hyderabad FC went through a financial crisis due to which they had to let go of their messiah Manolo Marquez Roca, Goa were the first club to pounce on him. Throughout social media, the club and fans created immense hype over ‘Don’ Manolo, and the Don didn’t fail to impress in the very latest ISL edition.

8 games. 6 wins. 2 draws, one against Simon Grayson’s Bengaluru and the other against the only another yet to be defeated side of Mumbai. Goa didn’t intend to have the best of transfer windows, multiple signings and replacements have happened to click beautifully, something which is not uncommon with Manolo. They couldn’t bring a proper striker, and the closest one, Carlos Martinez is yet to break into as an important starter. They lost highly rated left back Aibanbha Dohling to Kerala Blasters in exchange for a good amount, and in his place came Jay Gupta, who had quite an unconventional route to the ISL as he developed himself with Portuguese clubs GDS Cascais and Estoril and Spanish club Ebre Escola Esportiva, and now under serial full back developer Manolo is knocking at the doors of the Indian National Football team. 

Jay Gupta has been one of the best young players of the current edition (Viz: @statpeekers via X)

Iker went to the third tier of Spanish football, and there wasn’t a necessary replacement, but now Victor Rodriguez serves as an important creator throughout multiple positions in attack. Due to age, his performance isn’t the best in the league but it does the job, as he has completed the job of finding Noah in goal scoring positions on multiple occasions. It won’t be an understatement to say Noah is single-leggedly carrying the creation as well as the finishing. His ankle breaking turns in and around the box embarrasses anyone, be it a debutant or a seasoned defender. Noah and right mid Boris’ blistering speed and acceleration has been utilised multiple times to launch counter attacks, which is crucial since Goa prefer to defend in large numbers this season. It’s a largely different approach, something the ever bubbly stands at Fatorda are witnessing for the first time. 

Final third passes of Victor and Noah, Action Distribution of Victor and Shot Map of Noah (Viz: @statpeekers via X)

It is a near replication of the previously well known Manolo masterclass which builds up an effective attack from a sound defense. Highly experienced Center Backs Sandesh Jhingan and Odei Onaindia have been unpassable vaults. Full backs Seriton and Jay compliment each other as Seriton prioritises the defense a bit more over the attack and vice versa in case of Jay, but Seriton and Jay have not shied away from making crucial contributions in the attack and defense respectively when required. Above the 4 man backline stands the grand double pivot of Carl McHugh and Rowlin Borges, or well, it did till the match against Kerala Blasters, where Rowlin scored a beautiful goal but injured himself in the process, and now Raynier is having to adjust himself in the role and it’s a position which might see a fresh face in their next games. 

Boris and Udanta Singh are now the most likely wingers. They are not your traditional touchline hugging forward positioned dribbly cutting in ankle breaking curler goal type of winger, but rather are inclined towards the centre, are positioned much deeper and have significant defensive contributions. Their pace and stamina are very crucial when it comes to the fast build up or counters the FC Goa team are seem to be banking a lot upon. This leads to a highly interesting hexagonal combination between the two forwards, two CDMs and the left and right mids. This arrangement closes spaces effectively, blocks passes to midfield, and even if successful, the strong press from all sides quite easily leads to a possession gain for the team. It is crucial in preventing Central Progression, an aspect many clubs this season put good hope in, and force the opposition to the wings where an overload to intercept balls can easily be created through the left or right mid, one of the CDMs, the full back and sometimes even one of the forwards or the CB.

When the British arrived at Goa with the game of football, the local Priests learnt it from their training centers and thus through them it was readily accepted by the masses which were majority Christian from forced imposition by the Portuguese for many centuries. Thus, it won’t be totally wrong to say football is literally a religion in Goa. It is this devotion towards the sport that the multiple family owned clubs remained true to their ethos and didn’t sell their soul to franchises or corporates even after going to multiple challenging phases, that the Goan FA was one of the first associations to start properly structured youth development an aspect even FC Goa is shining in today. From Neville d’Souza and Armando Colaco, Derrick Pereira and Mahesh Gawli, and Clifford Miranda to the Brandons and Listons of today, the Konkanis were, are and will be one of the biggest influences in the grand experiment of Indian football.

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