The night of 20th December 2015 should have been the greatest in FC Goa’s short history. After being knocked out on penalties in the semifinals of the inaugural edition of the ISL the previous year, Zico’s men had gotten over that disappointment and topped the group stage in the 2015 edition. And when Joffre Gonzales scored in the 87th minute to put FC Goa 2-1 up in the final against Chennaiyin FC, the team understandably went over the top with its celebration thinking that the title was sewn up.
What transpired in the next few minutes showcased everything football should and should not be about. Chennaiyin FC scored almost immediately and then once more to seal a great comeback, grasping the title from Goa’s grasp. The scenes that followed were unprecedented. Both teams and their staff got into scuffles and FC Goa boycotted the prize distribution ceremony.
Chennaiyin’s star Brazilian player, Elano Blumer, was arrested after being accused of assaulting FC Goa co-owner and industrialist, Dattaraj Salgaocar. It is safe to say that no one came out looking good in the aftermath (there was no evidence of Elano doing anything untoward), and the controversy raged on for a few more months until FC Goa were slapped with a fine of 11 crores and bans on owners Dattaraj Salgaocar and Srinivas Dempo. On appeal, the fine was reduced to 6 crores and the bans overturned, but both men exited the club. Elano never returned to India again.
By the time the 2016 season came around, the club were a shambles. Pre-season was curtailed, training facilities in Goa were substandard and there seemed to be a lack of communication between Zico and the new management. Zico even went on record saying that the Gaurs should not have taken part in the ISL that year. All of this culminated in a poor start to the league, a start from which they never recovered. They finished bottom of the league and Zico left the club soon after. He had played a major role in establishing the club’s roots and should be credited for showing faith in young Indian players while bringing about some Brazilian flair to the team’s style of play. After having only one Brazilian in the squad handed to him in the first year, he had seven of them the next year and maintained that Samba influence right until the end. The football reflected that as well and the team were crowd pleasers.
It was clear however that the club needed to go in a new direction and as quite a few teams in Asia are doing these days, the management looked towards Spain.
Sergio Lobera, the former Barcelona youth team and Barcelona C team coach, was roped in to turn around FC Goa’s fortunes. He brought an armada with him and the team have decidedly moved on from Brazilians and bought six Spanish players this season (Adrian Colunga has since left the club). The attacking intent remains however, and FC Goa have thrilled this season by looking to open up play by taking risks. This has reflected in the results. The Gaurs have only been involved in one draw in eleven games and have scored a league high 27 goals. They’ve leaked goals too and only bottom placed Delhi Dynamos with 29 have conceded more than the 21 goals a shaky defence have let in.
Spaniards Manuel Lanzarote and league top scorer Ferran Corominas have been especially impressive at the top end of the pitch. It is a strong Indian core though that bodes well for the future. Seriton Fernandes and Narayan Das have impressed bombing forward from fullback positions, while Mohamed Ali has been a constant at centre back. Mandar Rao Dessai looks better with every outing and along with Brandon Fernandes, who finally seems to be fulfilling the potential that set him apart a few seasons ago, they provide glimpses of a rosy future for the club.
Currently fourth in the table, and with a game in hand over those above them, FC Goa are well placed to make the semifinals this season. If they can tighten up a little bit at the back, they may be well placed to take home a trophy that many Goans feel should already have been theirs in 2015. Do the Gaurs have a date with destiny on the 17th of March this year at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata? Only time will tell.