By: Akshay Tandon, Co-owner and President, FC Goa
Almost a year ago, our team, full of talented youngsters had just gone through months of grueling football against the likes of Dempo, Sporting, Churchill Brothers – some of the best teams in Goa, and successfully clinched the Goa Professional League title. It was a hard-fought victory.
The average age of our team (around 20) was much lower than all other participating teams. 80% of the boys were locally scouted and there were no foreigners in our squad. Despite that, we were champions last year and it was a great accomplishment for Derrick, Clifford, their staff, and the whole squad.
Also, it was relishing to see the team win the league playing the same beautiful style of football synonymous with our first team. Lots of goals, lots of build-ups and lots of drama- the beautiful game.
But, barring the die-hard football community in Goa, barely anyone knows about it and there’s a lot more to be desired.
Current scenario and the need for change
We realized that it’s now the perfect time to set higher standards and improve the quality of football as well as the infrastructure for the Goan youth to succeed. I wrote about reintroducing old tournaments that will benefit the players and increase game time. There’s no doubt that along with the Calcutta Football League and the Mizoram Premier League, the Goa Pro League is one of the best domestic football leagues this country has to offer. I would argue that it’s the best. The last couple of years itself have seen talents like Princeton, Gama, Sanson, Leander, Liston, George, and Jessel, amongst many more ply their trade in the Goa Pro League and go on to become senior team players with their respective ISL clubs.
This is the league that gave us the likes of Mandar, Adil and Brandon, who, in time to come, made great strides in club colors – eventually going on to represent India. In fact, 7 players from our Developmental team have gone on to clinch a place in our first-team squad in the past couple of seasons.
But that is not sufficient. In the Goa Pro League, we already have a good product. However, there is a strong case for much-needed improvement in the current structure to make it even more competitive, and more appealing. We need to implement a model that brings in revenue for all involved and can fuel the development of the whole ecosystem with better production and promotion.
The League’s footprint needs to penetrate all the footballing corners of India, and make it the most competitive, the most attractive, and the most accessible state league. In a few years this, we feel, will be the backbone to attract a much larger audience and interest. The Goan stars of tomorrow will emerge from this.
Last week, FC Goa put forth a proposal to the Executive Committee at the Goa Football Association with the intention of revamping the existing structure. (Here is a link to some snapshots from our proposal) The new structure would ensure an extremely competitive league which will aid in player development, match experience, and increase the profile of Goan football.
It proposes to increase the League’s commercial viability with live broadcast and sponsorships – with the FA and the clubs gaining sponsorship revenue. We also propose inviting outstation teams to be part of the new structure as well. The broadcast of these matches will solidify fan support and engagement and it will also open the League to a larger audience across the world. With the right marketing and social media support, there is no doubt that such a strong ecosystem will only thrive.
And Goa has all the right ingredients for this. Why shouldn’t we use Goa Pro League as a platform to develop Goan stars as well as players who can represent the county at the top level? There are more than 100 Indian players in the ISL and many more in I-League that are paid well. A strong tournament, with a good enough league structure, will enable more local players to prosper as well. A strong state League will aid player development and we will start producing more players worthy of the national team. In the past, Goa has produced four to six players in the starting XI for the National team. This is not the case any longer. And that needs to change.
What we propose is far from an innovative solution. It’s something that has been done the world over. Now we need to holistically improve every aspect of our footballing ecosystem, starting with a strong professional league that will eventually make the lower division leagues stronger and encourage a robust model for youth development.
Yes, we already have a functioning league with a good number of teams, decent infrastructure with a lot of experience and background. By increasing the talent pool and competition, it’s not just the players, but the entire Goan football ecosystem stands to benefit from this revamp. This even includes coaching staff and the referees.
Goa is one of the few football-first states in the country. It is a state where local clubs enjoy loyal support and fans attend these games. While in the COVID-era this may not be possible, their support only proves that the Goan love for football is insatiable. So the demand to watch Goan football will always continue to exist.
As I wrote almost a year ago, just one club cannot make this systemic change. All stakeholders need to come together and work as one if Goa Pro League is to stand out as the best state League in the country.
The pandemic poses several challenges, which may make it difficult to implement some of these reforms. However, the most significant of decisions indeed come during testing times. This is an opportunity to take progressive steps and see Goa Pro League & Goan football flourish in the long term.
I sincerely hope the GFA Executive Committee will consider our proposal and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a positive future of Goan football.
I stand by my assertion that Goa can truly become an Asian footballing hub.