“We don’t want to adjust to how ATK plays, it’s the other way round. They have to adapt to us,” beamed a confident Hugo Boumous following FC Goa’s dismantling of NorthEast United last week.
Some might look at this as being abrasively overconfident. For the Frenchman and the other Gaurs alike, it is the simple truth. And the truth is reflected in the numbers and the success that can now also be objectified with silverware.
Two and a half years back, a decision was made by the club in terms of the kind of football they wanted to play. Decisions were made to carry forward the blueprint and personnel recruited to carry out what would become arguably the most outlandish brand of football that India has seen.
A 43-goal ISL season was followed by a 41-goal one. Trips to the semis were followed by one to the final and the first touch of silverware came forth in the Super Cup. Even there, the Gaurs did everything there way. 12 goals scored in the space of 4 games enroute to the trophy was yet again validation to the notion.
On the list of football’s descriptive words, ‘courage’ doesn’t feature on the higher echelons. It’s too raw for some; having the characteristics of being a little too far-fetched and intangible.
The more dispassionate scrutinies allow for the words like ‘effort’ and ‘energy’ to sneak in. Even witty, clever-sounding words in foreign languages make their way into the fray.
“It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the best way to play, not the only way,” states Carlos Pena – a vital cog in the FC Goa machine.
“It’s easy to pump the ball long for us, but that relief is only momentary. We want to control our fate and for that we want to control the ball.
“Sometimes it’s not only about the courage to play the intricate pass but also to let go of your ego and play the simple ball and have the humility to move and make space for your teammates.
“You can never be too good to not do the right things.”
To do the right thing. For many people around the world of football, it might be a lot of different things, for the Gaurs it has always been about all coming in line to follow one singular line of thought in which football is defined by finding the right pass at the right time, giving your all and giving up yourself to create space for your teammates.
Creating space. No one does that better than the man at the front of it all – Ferran Corominas.
“People think of many things as sacrifices, but they are not,” opines the ISL highest ever scorer. “It’s about making the right decisions and having your heart in the right place.
“For me and all of us in this team, there is no greater achievement than winning each and every game. So me coming deep and giving my teammate in the midfield an easier option is the right thing to do.
“Others might define this simple thing as the courage to build up from the back and midfield. For us, that’s the kind of football we want to play.
“And at times when we fail to execute, it is the trust in your teammate to go again.”
A couple of years back, Kerala Blasters forward Dimitar Berbatov beamed about how FC Goa played the game. The comments were not only about the win but also about how the win was achieved.
In years to come, opponent coaches have time and again paid respect to the style and charisma that the Gaurs bring to the pitch on any given ISL night.
“The better team won, and you, for me are the best out there,” mentioned Nelo Vingada as he paid a visit to the FC Goa locker after a game against the Blasters last season.
“It’s fun playing with the ball and for our fans and anyone else watching too, it’s something to cheer for. I feel that every time I go out on the pitch,” states Mandar Rao Dessai. “If I was a guy in the stands I would be a fan too.”
Even when injuries or suspensions have propped up, the side hasn’t lost it’s valour or the sense of adventure every time the ball is at the feet of the Men in Orange.
The sense of thrill is what not only brings the fans to the seats in the stadium and the ones in front of the television sets, it also brings them to the edge of it and finally to their feet as time and again the Gaurs have sought out a way to dismantle teams.
Gifted in terms of technique and astute in terms of tactics, the Orange Machine on the field is not about a single man. The supreme talents of the individuals have been meshed into an explosive concoction that leaves opponents time and again helpless, and the fans breathless.
When they click through their gears on the charge in a counter-attack or run circles around the opposition to eke the vital space before delivering the fatal blow, they leave no room for pursed lips or cold admiration.
On occasions, all you can do is sit and marvel at the sheer eagerness of the Gaurs to do the ‘easy’ things with much ease. Other times, their willingness to transition at the rate of knots, leaves you with jaws agape. There is a respect for the primary imperatives of football while reaching out to produce the extraordinary.
If a word can sum it all up, you won’t call it far-fetched to say that in addition to character, there is a certain charisma about their gameplay.
“It all starts in practice,” explains Mohammad Nawaz, whose ‘ice-in-vein’ approach to the game when in possession of the ball starts it all up at the back. “It’s a big term, but we always look to set the benchmark. A few years back, people never imagined that this brand of football could have been played in India. But it’s happening and I am a part. Thrilled.”
Money buys you players, but without a conscious and well-drawn blueprint or framework, the challenge to get results – at least in the long run can often become a tedious and tiresome graft.
There is no need to impress the new man-in-charge in play here. There is no sudden burst of need in the ranks to prove their worth.
A core of players have been retained over the years at FC Goa, following the pattern set up to garner success. Time and again, it has proved fruitful. The framework has been used to produce a tremendous advantage.
The high emotional standards and the healthy internal environment have yielded a sense of true subjective triumph.
“It is a kind of family, you know,” chips in Hugo Boumous. “It’s not just about technical brilliance, it’s about having a core group of players who are focused on something, who trust each other, know each other and have a certain intelligence to carry out the process. That, more than anything, I feel helps us do what we do.”
When it comes to the Gaurs, the technical, the tactical and the physical realms of football are mixed with a sense of trust. It is not a blanket term here. ‘Trust’ forged by the retention of the core serves as the catalyst to victories and the elixir when things are not so rosy.
Not everything is perfect of course, but to think of them as a piano which rarely goes out of tune, or a tennis racket with near-perfect string tension wouldn’t be an idea that will be called audacious.
With time, the tunes become even sharper, the timing on the ball, a bit sweeter. And the willingness to run that bit faster or jump an inch higher is a natural outcome.
“We haven’t come here in a day,” states Pena. “There is a balance in the side now. On our day, we have been able to scythe through opponents, but on tougher ones, we have held each other accountable and more often than not, eke out the results.”
There is of course a philosophy and grand-sounding list of influences, but bringing that imagination to life and then holding it at its summit for a period of time is a different sort of challenge. It takes familiarity, repetition and more often than not, ‘trust’ to bring out the wonders in a team.
And all that happens because of continuity.
When the Gaurs take to the field at the Swami Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Saturday, it will be another challenge to bring it all together again.
The substance for FC Goa’s success this season is certainly multi-faceted. And they will again count on each of their three Cs to get them over the line yet again.