Born in Spain, Airam Cabrera has never played outside Europe. His career had brought him to Cyprus and Poland apart from Spain, and he has now made the decision to move to India to play for FC Goa.
The 33-year-old striker was tracked by FC Goa for a long time. The club found that this season was the ideal time to bring him in and hand over the responsibility of scoring goals to him.
“He is someone we had looked after for not only one, but for three years,” explains FC Goa’s Director of Football Ravi Puskur.
It was surprising that Airam played just 6 matches last season for Polish first division side Wisla Plock, thus raising questions about his quality.
“As a professional footballer you play season after season, and it always has some ups & downs. It’s well known to everybody that I haven’t scored a lot of goals in the last two seasons,” said Cabrera in an online media interaction on Wednesday.
His move to Goa wasn’t an overnight decision; Airam checked with a few of his Spanish friends who played in the Indian Super League before making the switch. He names Odisha FC’s midfielder Javier Hernandez and FC Goa’s defender Ivan Gonzalez as people from whom he learned good things about the Indian Super League.
“I spoke to players and got very good feedback. Javi told me that FC Goa has the perfect style of play for my skills. I spoke to Ivan as well. The response I got helped me make my decision because you need to be comfortable where you are going,” Cabrera told IFTWC.
FC Goa’s head coach Juan Ferrando tried to sign Cabrera back when he was at Volos FC in Greece. Now that Ferrando has his wanted man, it will not be a secret that he expects Cabrera to perform furiously on the field.
Cabrera knows that out of six ISL seasons, FC Goa players have won the Golden Boot award in three of them.
“I don’t like people comparing me to Coro or Angulo. I have huge respect for both of them because I know them as players. I’m not thinking about the numbers (goals) because I’m here to help the team,” he said.
Coronavirus and the Bio-bubble
The Spaniard is aware that due to the coronavirus outbreak, the entire ISL is going to be in a secured bio-bubble. Coach Juan Ferrando played an important role in convincing Cabrera for the same.
“The very first thing that the coach told me was about the bio-bubble. He tried to prepare my mind for it,” he says. “We spoke about football and he explained to me various things and what I can expect in India.”
Every players expects that, he and his family should be safe in this difficult circumstances. Airam’s wife is pregnant, hence he admits due to this reason he took more time before putting pen to the paper.
“Football without fans is not football, but in these difficult times we need to accept the situation and keep ourselves focused as much as possible. Ivan and Edu told me that they came to Goa last year with their families, so I came to conclusion that it will be safe here” he said.
Airam played a key role in Spanish clubs like Cordoba, Numancia, Cadiz, and Extremadura, scoring some magnificent goals for them.
“I want to show everybody who is Airam Cabrera. I am hungry to perform, because of the disappointments in the last two seasons,” Cabrera said.
Choosing the right one
Finding a replacement for Angulo turned out to be a tricky task for the Gaurs’ backroom staff. Ravi Puskur explains about replacing a striker such as Igor Angulo was a very difficult task.
“We looked at Cabrera, we spoke to him and we were convinced about what he can offer to us. We got to know that he is a player who is extremely hungry to prove himself in the Indian Super League. We felt he is the right choice. His last season stats might not be the best but there are reasons behind it.”
Angulo’s non-continuation with FC Goa was due to contractual reasons. FC Goa signed Angulo on a one-year deal back in 2020, but the contract included a clause saying that if he scored 20 goals in the upcoming season of the ISL and AFC Champions League, an extension would be automatically provided to him. Angulo scored 14 goals in ISL but Juan Ferrando excluded him from the AFC Champions League due to squad limitations as a result of which he failed to accomplish his target.
Puskur said Cabrera had been under consideration for a long time, and in 2020 he was an option itself. “We had multiple options back then. We spoke to Angulo and he was a perfect fit for us so we signed him quickly. Angulo too was keen to join FC Goa,” Puskur stated.
He further added, “If not Angulo, then yes, it was him (Airam) only who we would have signed a year back without any doubt.”
The ‘X’ factor
Signing Spanish players has been a pattern that FC Goa has followed mostly. However, Puskur believes that quality always takes precedence over nationality when it comes to scouting players.
As for the signing of Cabrera, Puskur says the club looked at various qualities the Spaniard possesses and found that he ticks all the boxes of what the club expected. Not only on the pitch, but how the player bonds with other players & staff, off the pitch is also the key perspective.
“We sign players that can adapt to our style of play. I have complete faith in Airam. He knows that we back him completely. We expect him to come soon and do the best of his abilities,” Puskur told IFTWC.
FC Goa’s history with strikers means fans and the coach alike will expect Cabrera to score lots of goals and to win the Golden Boot at the end of the season. The pressure will be on Airam to deliver for the Gaurs and it will be interesting to see how he handles it.
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