In what was a landmark night for Indian football, FC Goa scripted history by finishing the league stage of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 season at the top to become the first Indian club to reach the AFC Champions League group stage.
It was a momentous achievement for the most consistent football club in the ISL since its inception. Except for the 2016 season, where they finished rock-bottom, the Gaurs have always made it to the play-offs of the tournament.
After missing out on winning the title in the first three editions, Goa had parted ways with legendary Brazilian footballer Zico and had brought in former FC Barcelona assistant coach Sergio Lobera to replace him at the helm.
Lobera brought in the Spanish philosophy of eye-catching attacking football and the Gaurs have indeed thoroughly entertained in the past three seasons.
The Spanish coach brought in some quality foreign players into the team like Ferran Corominas, Edu Bedia, Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous who helped the coach in infusing his philosophy into the team.
It isn’t a big secret that an Indian club needs quality foreigners to play an entertaining brand of football and win trophies. But the contribution of the Indian players is also key. Every successful team needs a bunch of talented Indian players who can provide support to the foreign recruits.
At FC Goa, Sergio Lobera managed to improve the quality of his Indian unit as well. The Spaniard did an exceptional job in infusing his philosophy on the Indian players in his team, most of them hailing from Goa itself which ensured a huge connect with the fans. Mandar Rao Dessai underwent big transformation under Lobera. The player who had got hardly any game time at Bengaluru FC in 2016-17 I-League season, completely changed under the Spanish boss.
Lobera brought back the flair in the player who had shown a lot of promise in the inaugural edition of the ISL. Mandar’s position was also changed as Lobera turned him into a left-back .He a leader on the pitch for his side and also featured for the national team last year.
Another Indian player who received new life during Lobera’s tenure is right-back Seriton Fernandes. The Goan defender was a late bloomer who came into limelight only after joining FC Goa in 2017. He became a regular starter in the team last season and has proved to be a revelation.
Brandon Fernandes and Lenny Rodrigues, who played very important roles in the club’s success, also improved leaps and bounds under the former Las Palmas coach. Brandon has in fact broken into the national team set up and is currently considered one of the best Indian players in terms of technical ability with the ball.
Then there is Jackichand Singh who, after nomadic spells at various clubs, has found himself among the goals as part of Goa's attack. The club has currently eight Goan players in their first-team squad.
Local players have always played a major role in the success of the Indian club. Be it Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in the past or Dempo SC, Aizawl FC, Minerva Punjab FC and Chennai City FC in recent years - the successful clubs have always had local talents in their team.
FC Goa are setting an example, a brilliant one at that.