One of the terrible outcomes from the impasse between the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and legacy I-League clubs over the roadmap for Indian football has been the withdrawal of several Goan clubs from the national scene altogether. Since Indian football went semi-professional with the National Football League (NFL) in 1996-97 and then fully professional with the I-League in 2007-08, Goan clubs have won the league nine times out of twenty two.
No club in India has won as many as the five titles that Dempo Sports Club racked up between 2004-05 and 2011-12. It was a period of complete dominance and all titles were won under the tutelage of Armando Colaco.
Armando was born in Panjim and his talent at football was identified at a young age and honed by priests at school. The church has always had a big role to play in spreading the game in the country and Goa was no different. After playing for Don Bosco and Panjim Gymkhana, he was picked by Dempo in 1971. Dempo were already a big club and under legendary coach, Joseph Rathnam, Armando learnt important lessons he would put to use after his playing career was over. He hung up his boots in 1985.
After coaching several Goan sides on retirement, including Churchill Brothers, Dempo came calling again in 2000. They had just been relegated to the second tier and were looking at him to begin a process of revival.
He started putting the pieces together and created an Indian side unlike any other in those early years of the modern era. Possession based football is in vogue today but the approach play of the Dempo side through those successful years was a refreshing change for those who followed Indian football closely. They believed in retaining possession and pressing high up the field and winning the ball back quickly if the ball was lost. At some point, they earned the sobriquet, ‘Barcelona of India’.
During those glorious years, Dempo won titles at a canter, scoring goals at will and opening up large points gaps on other teams in the table. They did well in Asia too. In 2008, Dempo became the first Indian side to reach the semifinals of the AFC Cup.
When Bob Houghton left his post with the national team after five years of ‘long ball’ football, Armando was given the job with a mandate to implement his brand of football. Despite some good results, including a famous win over Qatar, he only lasted five months in the job. He wanted a longer contract to bring about more lasting changes and AIFF officials decided not to oblige him. He left the national setup and promptly won the last of his titles with Dempo.
Armando Colaco left Dempo in 2013 and then had a disappointing stint with East Bengal. His place in Goan and Indian football history is secure however, and he still is India’s most successful coach in the twenty-first century.