“We are an attacking side. I would rather win a game 5-2 than 1-0,” FC Goa head coach Sergio Lobera has bellowed time and again into the podium microphone.
Every season brings with it new challenges and new questions to be answered. Heading into the mid-season break, FC Goa have answered most of those lingering questions; and how!
Throughout the course of the first half of the season, the venues have changed; the questions thrown by the journalists have as well (at least a little bit) but the firmness in the voice of Sergio Lobera remains unwavering.
As Lobera takes to the podium time and again, he has an air of gravitas that commands ears as much as the Gaurs’ performance on the pitch has commanded attention. The schematic mastermind has shown an unflustered belief in his ‘way’ of football and he has every reason to have it.
Heading into the break this ISL season, FC Goa see themselves firmly in charge of their fate, currently third on the table with a game in hand on the chasing pack. A season after leading the side to the semi-finals, Sergio Lobera has backed up his ideas with results on the pitch; yet again.
The Modus Operandi
Modus Operandi - a noun, which in the Merriam Webster dictionary is explained as ‘a distinct pattern or method of operation’. For FC Goa, the Modus Operandi has been a simple one and to the delight of the club’s fanatics, it has been an effective one as well.
Football in the 21st century has a moral dimension to it. Certain styles have been labelled as the ‘right’ way of playing the game. Possession-based football which sees teams passing the ball around to tactically force the opposition into submission has cultivated itself as being the ‘art’ of playing the game.
And if that is art, FC Goa have proved themselves to be commendable artisans who have carved out a niche for themselves and carved open teams at will on nights. And that’s a huge reason why the Gaurs have been admired around the country.
They have yet again been a source of joy for not only their fans, but also to football lovers across the country. Going forward, the Gaurs have been inarguably impressive, combining their craftsmanship on the ball with moments of swirling skeins of rapid interactions leading to a helpless defence being left exposed.
The 20 points that FC Goa has garnered has come courtesy of a league-leading 27 goals (6 more in 1 less game than their nearest competition) in 11 games. They have been able to combine technical brilliance with a visceral thrill that has left the crowd on the edge of their seats. And in doing so, they have answered the lingering question of whether they can build on the success from last season.
The Gaurs are actually en route to overhaul their record-breaking feat of last season that saw them score 42 goals in the league stages. Even though a formidable force is no longer in the ranks, the team has ably replenished him with goals pouring in from all over the field.
There can be multiple ways of putting this. However, as simply as it can be put, FC Goa is inspirational and yet aggravating. They have been diligent and smarmy; a hymn for their fans and a dirge for opposing defences.
Faith in football goes a long way in determining how far a team or an individual will go. With Sergio Lobera at the helm, the Gaurs have never had a dearth in terms of the same. The coach has not only shown faith in his style, but also in the ability of his players, helping them to succeed by putting them in positions to flourish.
In the midst of goal scoring flurries and victorious escapades have been slides into the dark side with defeats against Jamshedpur, Bengaluru and Pune. Those hangovers, however, have not been long-lasting – a 5-1 victory over NorthEast following three winless games being a perfect reminder of the potency that this squad possesses.
New signing Jackichand Singh and the re-invigourated Brandon Fernandes have not only found the back of net but have also contributed to the sense of adventure with FC Goa approaches football. The 36-year young Coro is making an ‘age old’ cliché come true – “age is just a number”, while Edu Bedia is showing his otherworldly grasp of the game, playing much higher up the pitch this season.
With the likes of Ahmed Jahouh pinning ball ‘to the t’ from the back, Lenny Rodrigues purring on through the season like the sweet notes reverberation from a V8 engine, the Gaurs have found a sense of balance in the middle of the field unlike ever before under Lobera.
Indefatigable questions will be thrown time and again on Goa’s defensive capabilities. They have only two cleans sheets to show for their efforts. But that is all face value. When one delves deeper into the concoction brewed on the sunny shores, one can easily see that it could have easily been five (tied with the most by a team, currently held by Mumbai City FC). Three consolation goals in three games deep into added-on time has made conversations around them typically pitched speakers-blowing loud.
As Sergio Lobera said in a recent interview, “Let me give you an example. You are on a sofa, you are cold, but your blanket can cover either your upper body or your feet. If you cover one part, the other remains cold. That's football, for me. The most important thing, at the end, is the goal difference... you score more, you win."
There is much to be happy about the personnel at the back. Mourtada Fall has been a revelation; Seriton Fernandes has been inspirational and industrious – all at the same time. In between the posts, Mohammad Nawaz has made us forget that he is just a teenager who was in contention for the U17 World Cup last year.
The likes of Manvir Singh, Mandar Rao Dessai, Carlos Pena and Hugo Boumous have shown that they are willing to give it all even if played in positions they are not habituated to.
Sergio Lobera’s faith in their abilities to be a better player every single day has shone through this season. As a group, their unremitting effort on the pitch renders them terrifying. The names at the back of the shirt have hardly mattered as they have all come together to fight for the one in front of it.
FC Goa’s football on the field evokes emotions, makes you feel things. And thankfully, for the hundreds of thousands fans in Goa and India, the feelings have majorly been a happy one.