At the end of your contract with Hyderabad FC, you could have chosen any team you wanted in India. Why FC Goa?
I am from a country where football is like another kind of religion and I think in Goa, football is the most important sport. I know the structure at FC Goa is very similar to European clubs. It’s also one of the nicest place to live in India. It’s a big club, among the top in India. There are lot of reasons.
Did you consider any other team in India?
I know it may sound arrogant, but I had a lot of offers from other teams. Even Hyderabad tried to renew.
This season will see the return of coaches like Sergio Lobera, Owen Coyle and Carles Cuadrat, all of whom have won the ISL in the past. Do you think this season will be a lot more competitive than before?
To be honest, at the beginning of every season (in India), I have been thinking this will be the most difficult. It’s true, there are very good coaches now, coaches who have had success in the past. I am happy that all of them are back. I know Sergio, Carles and Owen, and have a good relationship with all three. I think it will be a nice competition. Maybe, now I can tell you, this will be the hardest season.
Unlike in the past when the club scouted for promising young players, FC Goa have now brought in five new domestic players, all of them experienced campaigners. How much of a difference will players like Sandesh, Rowllin, Udanta, Raynier and Boris make to this team?
They are all very good players. It’s true that I like to work with young players too, but of course, you need experience (as well). With only young players, it’s very difficult to achieve the target that you have set before the start of the season. You spoke of big names (that Goa have signed). If you see how Sandesh is playing with the national team, it’s fantastic. We are speaking of experienced players with a lot of good qualities. Practically all of them — Raynier, Rowllin, Udanta – played for the national team and Boris has a good future. He was in Indian Arrows as right back and Owen made him a winger. He is a good. We have good players. We don’t have any excuse, if we don’t have a good season.
There could be about 10 new players at FC Goa this season. Given that coaches prefer continuity for success, will these wholesome changes affect the team?
If you take Hyderabad as an example, it’s true that one of the key was continuity. I had 14 players (all through) during my time. In modern football, the situation at FC Goa is normal. At Hyderabad I was saying that after two or three seasons, maximum four, you either have to change the players or the coach. At a new club, it’s difficult because you have to forge a bond. They will play together for the first time. They have to stay focused to what is being explained. I have to learn from them too. It’s a nice challenge, but bringing in 8-10 new players is not a problem. When a new coach takes charge, he’s looking at 20-25 new players.
Last season, Goa scored a lot of goals, but conceded just as many, so is that an area that needs strengthening?
It’s difficult to respond. If you speak about these things, you are like criticising the former coach. I have a very good relationship and respect for Carlos (Pena). Goa were out of the playoffs because seven teams were in the fray and one team had to drop out. I think that’s largely because Goa lost their last three games.
Will you stick to the same style?
The style of FC Goa is very nice for the crowd. I can compare them with Barcelona, because the fans not only want to win, it’s important how you win. In this aspect, Goa has similarities. It’s not just about winning, but you have to play good football. When you are always with the ball, there’s risk, and maybe, you have problems at the back when you lose the ball. Counter attack for the opponent is easier. We will try and have a balanced team in attack and defence. I repeat, we have good players and we will have a very good squad.
How do you generally prepare for the season ahead, and are there differences in the way you approach a team where you’ve been before and a team that is new?
There is big motivation to start with a new team. In football, every moment is important. I remember one of my coach said the most important part is off season. You have to sign good players, and if you don’t have them, you cannot move ahead. I think we are going to have a good squad. Now we have to start pre-season. For me, when we speak of football, there are five aspects: attack, defence, both transitions (attack-defence, defence-attack) and set-pieces. We have to work on every aspect during pre-season. We need to be a strong team, playing together with the same target. It’s a very nice challenge with FC Goa.
Given what you did with Hyderabad, the players at Goa would be eager to work with you and take their game to the next level. What is the sense you are getting, having interacted with them after joining the team as coach?
In modern football, managing the group is very important, more important than 20 years ago. I think the squad has to be like a family. We are from different places, but our target is the same. It’s impossible that all of them will be happy. For example, there are six foreigners, but only four can play. If there are 11 players on the field, there will be 13-14 (sitting) outside. These players are the key for a good season, because you need all of them. They will have the chance to play (sooner or later). They can be angry with me, but they have to be all together. I am very optimistic about the season.