Odisha FC has been getting better over the last three seasons. They started at the bottom of the table in 2020/21 but improved to seventh place the next season. Then, in the following season, they did even better, finishing sixth and making it to the playoffs for the first time. However, what hasn’t been steady is the people in charge of the team. Stuart Baxter left in February, Kiko Ramirez in January, and although Josep Gambau stayed for a full season, he was fired right after it ended.
Despite this turmoil at the managerial level, Odisha won the Super Cup earlier this year, and they will hope that this success will be a new high that they won’t drop from. The heads at Odisha have been working hard during the offseason, including luring Sergio Lobera back to India as their coach and making transfers to complement the Spaniard. Odisha’s main challenge has been keeping consistent leadership, and they will dearly hope to maintain stability with Lobera now leading the team.
What’s at stake?
A lot. Odisha FC must accomplish something this season to firmly establish themselves among the top clubs in India. Winning is crucial, and they’ll have to secure silverware to progress as a football club and take the next step that has been long overdue. Winning a trophy would attract more fans to rally behind their own team and earn them greater respect. They need to achieve this soon.
Another disappointing season, despite recruiting one of the best coaches in the league and making significant high-profile transfers, would be a major setback. Sergio Lobera has a lot on the line, personally, too. This is his first venture after leaving the City Group, and he will want to prove his former employers wrong for letting him go.
First and foremost, Odisha FC’s most significant transfer move in the transfer market was acquiring Sergio Lobera from Sichuan Jiuniu. It’s hard to overstate how crucial it was for Odisha to have a capable manager in charge, especially after going through three consecutive managers who hardly lasted the entire season. When signing Lobera, it was almost a given that Mourtada Fall and Ahmed Jahouh (and Hugo Boumous, though that didn’t happen) would also come on board. Fall and Jahouh were key players for Lobera during his stints with Goa and Mumbai, so their move to Odisha alongside him wasn’t surprising.
In terms of strengthening their defence, Odisha made several additions, particularly in the full-back positions. They brought in Amey Ranawade, Laldinliana Renthlei, Paogoumang Singson, and Jerry Lalrinzuala. Ranawade was looking for a fresh start after recovering from a long injury layoff at Mumbai. Singson, at just 19, is a promising defensive talent that Lobera will be more than glad to develop. Jerry, on the other hand, will provide added strength to the left flank, following a relatively modest season at East Bengal.
Odisha FC didn’t overlook their midfield either. After Jahouh, they made several additions, including Lalliansanga Renthlei from Rajasthan, Lenny Rodrigues and Puitea from Bagan, and Givson Singh on loan from Kerala. Their midfield transfer choices appear to be well-balanced. Lobera has two experienced players in Jahouh and Lenny to manage the midfield, while Puitea, Renthlei, and Givson – all of whom have much to prove – bring the energy at the centre of the park.
Odisha didn’t need to make too many changes to their forward line, but they did need a suitable partner for Diego Mauricio up top. They’ve addressed this by signing Roy Krishna on a free transfer. While the Fijian may not be as lethal as he once was, he’s certainly a solid backup for Mauricio. With Lobera as the coach, we might even see the goal-scoring machine we remember from the past.
In addition to Krishna, Odisha has also brought in Aphaoba Singh from Punjab, a highly promising forward at just 19 years old. They’ve also signed Cy Goddard, another player who has previously worked with Lobera. After a season on loan at Mumbai, Goddard played for Central Coast Mariners and then Detroit City before returning to the subcontinent.
In terms of departures, Odisha FC decided to part ways with four of their foreign players from the previous season. Additionally, they also bid farewell to Lalruatthara and Sebastian Thangmuansang, both without a club at present. However, the most significant departure was Nandhakumar’s transfer to East Bengal. Odisha will certainly feel the absence of Nandha in their squad, as he was their second most effective attacker last season after Mauricio. While the overall departure market wasn’t too eventful for Odisha, Nandha’s exit will be a notable loss for the team.
Scoring goals should not be a problem for Odisha, given the presence of experienced center-forwards like Diego Mauricio and Roy Krishna on their roster. Together, they scored a total of eighteen goals last season, so unless there is a major setback, their foreign number nines should not be a source of concern. Odisha also boasts good midfield depth with players like Jahouh, Puitea, Lenny, and several promising talents, making their midfield department well-equipped. In terms of defense, the pairing of Carlos Delgado and Mourtada Fall has the potential to be a strong duo. Delgado displayed promising signs last season, and with a reliable partner in the backline, they can hope to establish a defensive wall at the back.
In addition to the well-known players, another significant strength of Odisha FC, albeit not immediate, is the abundance of young talents within the team. Players like Paogoumang Singson, Tankadhar Bag, Pungte, Thoiba, and Aphaoba couldn’t have asked for a better coach to help them make their mark in the top tier. The mentioned names are just the beginning; Odisha has many more talents ready to burst through the ranks. If utilized effectively, they could potentially become one of the team’s major strengths this season.
When considering their foreign forwards, it’s important to note that both may not always be in the starting lineup, which is where Odisha will have to depend on their Indian forwards. Unfortunately, the domestic forward options are not particularly impressive. It’s challenging to recall the last time Aniket Jadhav made a goal contribution, and Soosairaj has hardly played over the past few months. Cy Goddard’s output in front of the goal is also a cause for concern. Jerry and Isak will shoulder a significant portion of the attacking responsibility, but if the pre-season is any indication, Diego Mauricio will likely be the one tasked with scoring most of the goals for the team.
Another thing that might be difficult to accept is the potential decline in the performance of Mourtada Fall and Ahmed Jahouh. It’s essential to be honest about it – Fall and Jahouh are not the exceptional players they once were during their time in Goa or Mumbai. Lobera’s tendency to favor players he’s worked with in the past could potentially backfire, especially considering both are now 35 years old.
Additionally, while they do possess a deep midfield, it’s unrealistic to rely on Lenny, aged 36, and Jahouh, aged 35, to dictate the play all the time. Having depth doesn’t necessarily translate to having quality. What’s worrisome is the absence of creative play-makers. Players like Princeton, Puitea, and other young talents are undoubtedly talented and well equipped to slot into the midfield, but as history has shown, they may not be the ones who consistently provide assists and set up scoring opportunities for the strikers. This is indeed a significant concern.
Odisha FC’s Predicted Lineup
One youngster to watch out for
Aphaoba Singh will be the youngster who will draw a lot of eyes for Odisha FC this season. The young attacker was a vital cog for Punjab FC, who won the I-League last season, and gained promotion to the Indian Super League.
He can play in all the positions in the attacking line and was part of the National Team in the U20 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
The most significant change for Odisha compared to last year has been the addition of Lobera. This is the reason why we believe the Juggernauts have a chance to secure a top-four finish. However, if you remove Lobera from the equation, predicting where they might end up with the same squad becomes quite challenging. The competition this season appears to be more intense than ever. There are notable coaches in the mix like Buckingham, Ferrando, Simon Grayson, Ivan Vukomanovic, Owen Coyle, and Carles Cuadrat. It will indeed be a demanding task for Lobera to win silverware in his very first season, but he has done it before, and Odisha will rely on him to replicate that magic once again.
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