Odisha FC- The Start of a New Journey

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Odisha FC (previously Delhi Dynamos) have been there and thereabouts in the six seasons of the Indian Super League but never quite made it big. With a change in Coach next season, it can be the start of a new journey for them, a journey which can bring Football back to Life in Odisha.

As part of our series, we would be taking a look at all the 10 ISL teams, where they stand at the moment and what should be the way forward for them going into the next season.

Fifth up on our list is Odisha FC.

Performance in previous season– 6th position in the league.

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After shifting their base from Delhi to Odisha and changing their name from Delhi Dynamos to Odisha FC, much was expected of the team in the last season. After all, the reason for the sudden change that was given was better facilities and Government support in Odisha. But last season, the Kalinga Stadium wasn’t really upto the mark as far as the pitch was concerned. Although it improved in the latter half of the season, much of the damage had already been done.

As always, Odisha played an amazing brand of football under Josep Gombau and impressed one and all with their gameplay. But once again, they fell short of the playoffs mark by 4 points. During the off season, wholesome changes have taken place at the club and let’s look at the biggest one of them all, one which will probably define everything that will happen at Odisha FC next season.

A CHANGE OF COACH

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Despite all the plaudits that Josep Gombau got for his work in India, he was unable to guide his team to the playoffs in either of the two seasons that he managed. With his two year contract coming to an end, he decided not to renew his contract despite being offered an extension from the club. Instead, he decided to move to Queensboro FC in the USL Championship as their Head Coach and Sporting Director. And in order to replace him, Odisha FC signed Englishman Stuart Baxter as their new head coach. At 66 years of age, Baxter comes with loads of experience of managing teams in the top divisions of Europe.

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He has also managed the National Teams of Finland and South Africa, with South Africa being the last team he managed before joining Odisha FC. As far as his coaching style is concerned, Stuart Baxter likes to play a deep line defensively and hit teams on the counter. Some of the most important positions in his team are occupied by the wingers and this is exactly the reason why he might just be successful at Odisha FC. At Odisha, he would have quick wingers in the form of Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Nandakumar Sekar at his disposal and on paper, both of them look like fitting perfectly in the style of Stuart Baxter.

The newly appointed tactician has also said that he would play a style that would be most suitable to the team and would not be a rigid coach. Rather, he would like to be the Player’s Coach and if the team is already well accustomed to playing possession football, he might just continue the good work done by the former Coach. Before the season and on paper, Baxter looks like a really shrewd signing and Odisha would hope that he can take them to the playoffs next season, if not lead them to the Indian Super League Title.

NEW TRANSFER ARRIVALS

Odisha Fc have been really busy in the transfer market so far and have signed a lot of new players. It seems like the team is in for a massive overhaul this season with the signings they have made. Let’s look at the signings of Odisha Fc so far and where they fit into the team.

KAMALJIT SINGH

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Probably the one position in which Odisha lacked massively last season was the Goalkeeping department. They had the only foreign goalkeeper in the League in the form of Francisco Dorronsoro. As good a goalkeeper as Dorronsoro was, he took the place of an outfield foreigner everytime he took the field. And thus, the Coach was forced to bench him and play with an Indian goalkeeper. And this was the area in which Odisha lacked considerably last season.

With Albino Gomes injured for the entirety of the season, the only option left for them was to play young Arshdeep Singh in goal. But he failed to live up to the expectations and was inconsistent with his performances. With Dorronsoro leaving the club and signing for CF Badalona in Spain, Odisha Fc were on the lookout for an experienced Indian campaigner under the bar and Kamaljit Singh fitted the bill perfectly.

Kamaljit is more than a decent shotstopper and has quality reflexes. He has also been called up to the National Team Camp and that in itself is an indicator of the quality he possesses. At 24 years of age, he is still a work in progress and can possibly reach his potential under the able guidance of Stuart Baxter. Odisha Fc have also signed Ravi Kumar from Mumbai City Fc and Ravi Kumar is more than a decent second choice goalkeeper. One thing for certain, if there’s one department about which Odisha fans can be rest assured next season, it’s the goalkeeping one.

GEORGE D’SOUZA

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A Left-Back from the Goa Pro League setting the ISL on fire is a story Kerala fans would love telling. But a similar story could be narrated next season by the Odisha fans as well. While Kerala Blasters have already found a sensation in the form of Jessel Carneiro, Odisha might not be too far behind either with the signing of Geroge D’Souza. A Left-Back by trade, George can play in a variety of positions. Be it on the left wing or as an attacking midfielder, George is more than capable to play in these positions. Add his dynamite of a left foot to all this and you have a gem of a player at your disposal.

George’s freekick taking abilities are popular in the whole of Goa and it would not be surprising if he scores a couple of belters next season. At Odisha, he is most likely to play at left back and bombard down the flanks. With Narayan Das looking all the more likely towards an exit, the Left-Back slot is wide open and it would not be surprising to see George D’Souza make the position his very own in the upcoming season.

SAMUEL LALMUANPUIA

Samuel’s move from the Kerala Blasters to Odisha FC raised a lot of eyebrows, as much was expected of the young midfielder at Kerala when he signed for them last season. But unable to break into the starting eleven all season and a certain Sahal Abdul Samad playing in the same position as him, it looked highly unlikely for Samuel to get playing time under his belt at Kerala this season either. Thus, a move to Odisha Fc can work wonders for the Mizo lad. Although he didn’t get a lot of playing time under Eelco Schattorie, Eelco described him as one of the finest midfielders in India and surely one among the top three.

That is some high praise indeed for the 21 year old former Shillong Lajong player. At Odisha Fc, he is likely to get more playing time as he is capable of playing in a variety of positions, be it the left wing, the right wing, as an attacking midfielder or as a second striker. Odisha FC have a penchant for working with young Indian players and thus, a move to Odisha FC looks like a much better bet for Samuel than staying at the Kerala Blasters. And in case he gets some playing time to showcase his potential, Odisha can attain the distinction of unearthing yet another fine young Indian talent.

THOIBA SINGH

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Despite being just 17 years old, the signing of Thoiba Singh can be labelled as the biggest Odisha Fc have managed to make so far. Probably the smallest player in the League next season, the signing of Thoiba comes with huge expectations. The youngest goalscorer ever in the AFC Cup, Thoiba already has 15 senior caps for Minerva Punjab.

The Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj has labelled him as the “Wonderkid of Indian Football” and all eyes would be on him when he takes the field next season. The biggest asset that Thoiba possesses is his versatility. He can play as a Central defender, as a Central midfielder and even as a Striker. There is probably no job on a football field that the young starlet cannot do.

Despite all the talent he possesses, it looks highly unlikely that he would receive considerable playing time next season and thus, he should be loaned out to an I-League club as it would help him discover his own game as well. It might not be a move favourable for Odisha in the short term but it can give them monumental benefits in the long term. Thus, a loan move seems like the best bet for Thoiba Singh next season. BUT DON’T BE SURPRISED EITHER IN CASE HE SETS THE ISL ON FIRE NEXT SEASON AND BREAKS MANY A RECORD.

Odisha Fc had some impressive foreigners last season and let’s take a look at which ones among them should be retained by the club next season.

ARIDANE SANTANA- RETAIN

On loan from Spanish club Cultural Leonesa, Aridane Santana was one of the best strikers in the ISL last season and his returns of 9 goals from 14 games seem praiseworthy. An injury cut short his season and he would love to restart from where he had left last season. Standing at a towering height of 1.91 meters, he can fit perfectly in Stuart Baxter’s style of play, who likes his wingers to deliver balls into the box. Aridane can be a focal point of attack for the Juggernauts next season and there’s no reason as to why the club shouldn’t be going all out to get his services back for the next season.

XISCO HERNANDEZ- RETAIN

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A former ISL Champion with Bengaluru Fc, Xisco was simply sensational for Odisha Fc last season and was a driving force in almost all their attacks last season. A return of 5 goals and 2 assists is something that would make any attacking midfielder proud in the ISL, unless you are obviously an Hugo Boumous. Xisco’s main role last season was linking the defence with attack and he carried out his job with aplomb. Thus, Odisha should look towards retaining Xisco’s services for the next season.

Marcos Tebar- DON’T RETAIN

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A Real Madrid academy graduate, Marcos Tebar is one of the finest players to grace the Indian Super League. But at 34, he is not getting any younger. Personally speaking, Marcos Tebar has done no wrong to not get retained by Odisha Fc as he is a Team-Man of the highest order. Apart from that, he was Odisha Fc’s Captain as well last season and possesses great leadership qualities. But Odisha Fc owner Rohan Sharma made it clear that the club is on the lookout for a new Captain, which most probably indicates that Tebar’s contract at Odisha is not getting renewed. Thus, its highly unlikely that we would see him don the Odisha colours next season.

DIAWANDOU DIAGNE- RETAIN

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The former FC Barcelona player had a tough start to life in India as he was not able to adapt to the Indian game properly last season. But there were glimpses of his potential last season. Primarily a defensive midfielder, Diagne filled in as a Centre-Back for the better part of the season. At times, he was played at right-back as well. But a 2 year contract with the club means that Diagne is all set to prolong his journey in India for atleast one more season. And in case he can adapt to Indian conditions, he can turn out to be a valuable asset for Odisha Fc.

MARTIN PEREZ GUEDES- DON’T RETAIN

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Much was expected of the Argentine when he signed for Odisha Fc last season. Having played in the top division of the Argentine League for the majority of his career, Guedes was expected to be the perfect replacement for Chhangte. At 28, he is still at the very peak of his prowess but he failed miserably last season. Despite scoring 3 times and assisting a further two, he missed several chances last season and the table could have been much more favourable to Odisha had Guedes performed according to expectations. Thus, its highly unlikely that he would be retained by the club next season.

CARLOS DELGADO- DON’T RETAIN

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Another case of failing to live upto the expectations, Carlos Delgado was signed on loan from Spanish club CD Castellon. Having played in the La Liga before, Delgado was expected to form a solid partnership at the back with Gaurav Bora and aid his development as well. But what we saw on the pitch was something else. It was Gaurav Bora who looked the more assured of the two and looked like the Senior Partner. Thus, Odisha have no reason to lure back Carlos Delgado.

FRANCISCO DORRONSORO has already left the club and now plays for Spanish side CF Badalona in the Third Tier.

SPECIAL MENTION- MANUEL ONWU- RETAIN

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Manuel Onwu was a Bengaluru Fc player at the start of the last season. He was being touted as Miku’s replacement and had a tough job at his hands. But he was simply disappointing for the Blues and was cast aside from the squad after just a handful of matches. But Aridane Santana’s injury mid-season paved the way for him to join Odisha Fc on loan. And he simply set the stage on fire in the 4 games he played for the club. He racked up 7 goals in those four games and showed a completely different side of his game, compared to the one he showed at Bengaluru.

Onwu is basically a player who feeds on crosses delivered to him in the penalty box. And Jerry and Nanda did exactly the same by crossing the ball towards him at every possible opportunity and the result was there for everyone to see. Thus, with Onwu out of contract at Bengaluru, Odisha should look to secure the signing of the Spanish International. He has already taken a liking to Odisha’s gameplay and can be very hard to stop in the coming season. Well, its a gamble worth taking, Odisha Fc.

AREAS ODISHA FC STILL LACK IN

While the attack is pretty much sorted for Odisha as they have various options to choose from, the midfield and the defence looks really shaky on paper. With the imminent department of Marcos Tebar, Odisha need to sign a foreign midfielder to partner Vinit Rai.

Although Diagne is already present at the club and provides a decent option in there but the club looks at him as more of a defender than a midfielder. Thus, the signing of another foreign midfielder is the need of the hour. As far as the defence is concerned, Gaurav Bora is more than a decent option for one of the centre-back slots. But the other slot is a sign of worry. Carlos Delgado failed massively last season and Odisha needs to make sure that they sign a decent Centre-back if they are to progress further in the competition.

POTENTIAL PLAYERS THEY CAN TARGET.

SANDESH JHINGAN

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Odisha Fc owner Rohan Sharma has made his intentions clear time and time again that he wants to get Sandesh Jhingan playing at Odisha. He even publicly said that Sandesh would have everything he demands in case he decides to join the club. An All-Indian centre-back pairing of Gaurav Bora and Sandesh Jhingan would be a delight to watch as well as those two can potentially pair up for the National Team as well.

But having said all that, the chances of Odisha Fc signing Sandesh Jhingan seem very slim. Sandesh has already spoken of his desire to win trophies and if thats the case, all three of ATK Mohun Bagan, FC GOA and BENGALURU FC are more suitable destinations for the talismanic defender. Thus, Sandesh Jhingan to Odisha has a very negligible chance of happening, if any.

JOSEBA BEITIA

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Joseba Beitia was a revelation for Mohun Bagan in the last season. 3 goals and 9 assists are enough to speak about his impact on Mohun Bagan winning the I-League Title last year. At 29, he is at the very peak of his powers as well and could turn out to be the perfect replacement for Marcos Tebar at Odisha Fc.

ATK Mohun Bagan have already decided not to retain the Mohun Bagan Player of the Year and he has been linked with a move to the Kerala Blasters under his former Coach Kibu Vicuna. But the problem that Beitia faces at Kerala is that there is a similar type of player present in the team already in the form of Sergio Cidoncha. And if that’s the case, he will have to compete for one slot with Cido. Add to that, Kerala have a lot of young Indian players vying for that midfield slot as well and it just makes it even more tough to break into the Starting XI.

Thus, Odisha can take advantage of this situation and lure Joseba Beitia towards playing for Odisha. Odisha, much like Mohun Bagan last year, like to play a possession based game and Joseba Beitia is an absolute master at it. He likes to drop deep and initiate attacks and this could exactly be his role at Odisha Fc. Thus, Odisha should go all guns blazing in order to sign Joseba Beitia.

FRAN GONZALEZ

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Another Mohun Bagan Startlet. Another player linked to the Kerala Blasters. Another hijack deal? Well, if Joseba Beitia’s impact on Mohun Bagan’s Title winning season was huge, same can be said for his partner in crime Fran Gonzalez as well. Scoring 10 goals in just 13 matches, that too playing as a defensive midfielder at times and a centre-back other times, it’s just mind-blowing to say the least.

Joseba Beitia and Fran Gonazalez already have a good understanding between each other and signing both of them can turn out to be spectacular for Odisha Fc. Fran can possibly take up Carlos Delgado’s place and can play out from the back. Fran and Diagne can also exchange positions depending on the game situation in case they are playing together.

At the moment, Odisha haven’t been linked to either of Fran or Joseba but given the impact both of them can have on a team, it can turn out to be beneficial for any team who signs them. In case both of them can be signed, they might just repeat their heroics from last season.

Here’s a glimpse of what Odisha Fc could look like next season.

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Under the teelage of Stuart Baxter, Odisha are entering a different territory altogether. No one has an idea of where they would end, come the final stages of the next season. Baxter has also hinted about the possibility of a few South African signings. If that’s the case, Odisha Fc could look really different from last season.

But with clubs like Mumbai City, ATK Mohun Bagan, Fc Goa and Bengaluru Fc making some sublime squads, Odisha need to be at the top of their transfer game if they are to make it to the business end of the Indian Super League. They might just do it next season. They might not. There’s no guarantee as far as that is concerned. But Odisha fans would certainly be praying that next season is their season. Whether it would be or not, ONLY TIME WILL TELL.

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