Since changing bases from Delhi to Kalinga, Odisha FC has found themself stuck in the bottom half of the ISL table, failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last two years. After settling for the wooden spoon last season, Odisha has made substantial structural changes, with the highlight being their partnership with Premier League club Watford FC as well as their affiliation with David Villa – backed DV7 group. While Watford is expected to provide assistance to the youth teams and women’s football department, DV7 has assisted them in signing players and is expected to provide general support to the coaching staff and youth teams throughout the season. The Juggernauts have also appointed Spaniard, Kiko Ramirez as their head-coach.
Odisha lacked organisation and a proper playstyle under Stuart Baxter last season, as a result of which they will expect Kiko to bring back the organisation apart from the proper handling of the plethora of youth players that they have.
Odisha also parted ways with all their foreigners from last season, replacing them with a whole new set of foreigners for the upcoming season. Diego Mauricio and Cole Alexander will be two names that will be missed as the former chose to move to the Middle East, while the latter opted to return to South Africa. Mauricio was Odisha’s top scorer, so they needed to find a player of similar caliber to replace him.
With the help of DV7, Odisha has successfully managed to do so with the signing of Brazilian forward Jonathas de Jesus. Other players who have been signed by Kiko Ramirez and co include former ATK players Javi Hernandez and Victor Mongil, Malaysian midfielder Liridon Krasniqi alongside Spaniards Hector Rodas and Aridai Cabrera.
IFTWC continues its series of profiling foreign players at ISL clubs, this time focusing on Odisha FC’s foreign contingent.
Liridon Krasniqi will become the first Malaysian player to participate in the Indian Super League after being signed by Odisha FC on loan. However, Liridon is not originally from Malaysia. The midfielder has played for the junior teams of the Albania National Team as well as for the senior team of Kosovo. He became a naturalized Malaysian player in 2020 and has appeared in four games for the nation so far. He started for Malaysia in all of their last three World Cup Qualifier games against UAE, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Krasniqi signed with JDT, one of Malaysia’s most successful clubs, in 2019 and featured in three games for them. He was sent on loan to A-League club Newcastle Jets last year and has featured for the Jets in nine games, coming off the bench in all of them. At 6’4″, the Malaysian is a formidable presence at the center of the field. While Krasniqi is an excellent passer and creative midfielder, he is equally adept defensively – always winning duels and supporting the defense. He can play as both an attacking midfielder or a central midfielder.
Cole Alexander’s departure will make Liridon an ideal replacement for the South African thanks to the similarities between their playstyles. The JDT loanee will supposedly operate in the midfield pivot with Vinit Rai, and Javi will be responsible for the attacking duties.
As one of two foreigners in Odisha with some ISL experience, Javi has played 31 games over two years for ATK and ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL, which includes 25 starts. His contribution to ATK’s title-winning squad in 2020 was instrumental, scoring a brace in the final match to take home the trophy. The second season of his career with the Kolkata club was marred by injuries, as he was limited to eight starts, where he scored one goal and made one assist. Javi has, in total been, involved in six assists and three goals during his two seasons in India.
Prior to his move to India, he played three seasons in Poland, where he recorded 19 goals and 11 assists. He also played in the Europa League Qualifiers during his time with Qəbələ FK. Last season, Odisha’s transfer activities demonstrated their desire for an attacking midfielder and also their struggle to find the perfect one. Marcelinho was initially expected to solve the problems at the top, but the Brazilian fared poorly and could not replicate his form from last season. During the winter transfer window, he was swapped with Bagan midfielder Brad Inman, but the Australian also could not do much to change things.
Javi Hernandez may very well hold the key to solving Odisha’s problems at the top. Antonio Habas consistently relied on the 32-year-old’s skills when he was fit to dictate midfield play in his system. He is versatile enough to be a deep-lying playmaker or an outright attacking midfielder in addition to providing a strong defensive contribution as well. Pacy forwards like Jerry, Nandhakumar, Aridai along with Jonathas will surely be enjoying his long balls.
The Spaniard can fit either as a pivot or as the lone attacking midfielder in Kiko Ramirez’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Javi is expected to face competition from Indian options like Isaac Vanmalsawma and Nikhil Raj for the position, but the pedigree he brings with him should give him an edge. A midfield of Javi Hernandez, Vinit Rai, Liridon Krasniqi, together with young talents like Paul and Thoiba surely makes for a formidable unit ready to contend for the ISL trophy.
Rodas, born and brought up in Spain, has only played outside his native country once: a season with Belgian club Cercle Brugge. The 33-year-old played for six seasons for his boyhood club Levante, appearing in over 64 La Liga games. During the next few years, Rodas played for various clubs in the Segunda Division like Real Betis before he landed at Cultural Leonesa in the third division of Spanish football. The defender has been a regular for them, playing in over 36 matches for Leonesa over the last two seasons.
A signing like Hector Rodas is essential for Odisha as he adds experience to the squad’s young back line. The centre-back is a ball-playing defender, something Kiko Ramirez definitely appreciates. The manager described Rodas as an aggressive defender who never backed down from making a challenge. His aerial dominance makes him a player who can assist Odisha in scoring via set-pieces as well as defending them also. Rodas can easily slot in beside someone like Gaurav Bora or Odisha’s other defensive signing Victor Mongil at the back.