With an aim of developing football from the grassroots in the state, Odisha’s first ISL club Odisha FC officially inaugurated its grassroots football development programme at Sai International School here on Monday.
“Our aim is to make football the no. 1 sport in the state and the state of Odisha the no. 1 football state of India. The idea is over time, we will interact with each and every school in the state to spot talent in Odisha. Let’s start the journey together from today,” Odisha FC CEO Ashish Shah said in a statement.
As a part of its grassroots program, the club will organise Football Festivals, Street Cups, Coach Education Program in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and other parts of the state so that the coaches instruct the players in a proper way and develop them into good footballers in the future.
Baby Leagues in various age groups will also be organised along with the tournaments for the girls as well.
The renowned Aspire Academy from Qatar is the technical partner of the club and the young players will be given an opportunity to train there as well just like the previous and current batches training at the academy.
Odisha FC coach Josep Gombau is an affable man. In the heat of battle, he remains calm on the touchline, encouraging his players, sharing a smile with the fourth official as well as the opposition players who might wind up close to him when fetching a stray ball.
At the end of his team's 3-0 defeat away to ISL champions Bengaluru FC, Gombau, a former Barcelona youth coach, got his team together after they acknowledged the away fans. Odisha dominated the opening 20 minutes, despite taking the field without two of their key Indian midfielders in Vinit Rai and Nandha Kumar. A couple of lapses in marking led to two goals inside three minutes, but Gombau would tell his young team that while the score might read 3-0, he saw the match as a gain.
As he walked to the team bus, the Bengaluru fans cheered and clapped for him, and then started an ironical chant for a pro wrestler he resembles. Gombau just smiled.
This balanced conduct, and his reputation for moulding young players well, makes Gombau one of the standout coaches over the last two ISL seasons. And Odisha, a team that went by the name of Delhi Dynamos until last season, have become one of the dark horses of the league -- the Bengaluru defeat snapped a four-match winning streak.
Gombau barely got enough time to settle into the Delhi job when he took it up in August 2018. With many Indian players part of the Under-23 team that was busy playing the SAFF Championship in Dhaka, he got only a fortnight with the entire Delhi Dynamos team, before being pushed into a schedule that saw them play their first six matches inside three weeks. However, the upturn in form after the international break for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup was evident -- they beat Kerala, Bengaluru and Pune, and held Goa and NorthEast United. Gombau knew he had something to work with.
Later that summer, as uncertainty loomed over the future venue of the club that has since been re-christened Odisha, Gombau took goalkeeper Ankit Bhuyan, defenders Shubham Sarangi, Sajid Dhot, Gaurav Bora, and midfielders Nandha and Jerry Mahwmingthanga to his village of Amposta in Spain to train alongside Southampton's Oriol Romeu, who played under Gombau as a Barcelona youth player.
"We play with [a minimum of] five Under-23 Indian players in our lineup, and when people say, 'Wow, Shubham is doing well, or Jerry is so good,' I feel proud," Gombau said.
He also explained the training process he put his players under while in Amposta.
"While the other players and coaches were on holiday, we were in my village, [waking up at] 7:30 in the morning, training them in skills to try and narrow this big gap that they have. They are growing now."
"When you come to countries where football is not the main sport, and where football wasn't developed when the professionals today were kids, then you need to go two or three steps behind and show them a few basics," Gombau says about his philosophy of working first with youth at Barcelona and then professionals in India.
Like anybody with a strong Barcelona influence, Gombau wants to entertain people with his brand of football. In ideological terms, he likens Goa coach Sergio Lobera's philosophy to be the closest to his.
"If I tell a young player not to take risks and just play long balls, this is the easier option for him," he says. "You need to measure how you send a message to a young player. You can say, 'Under pressure, if you need to kick one or two balls [long], do it.'
"I want them to take responsibility, and sometimes we concede goals because we take a risk. But maybe this will bring you a knowledge that you won't make a mistake in the next 10 games."
"These kids -- Shubham, Jerry, Bora, Daniel [striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia] -- kids their age in Europe would play a league of 38 games, and then different tournaments. We are missing at least 40 games each year," he says.
"That's 40 games of experience, of knowledge, of mistakes and growth. If Indian football has to grow, players have to be active for 10 months, with four sessions a week, and a game. If the top pros are playing 18 games over six months, I don't want to imagine what happens with the kids. Maybe six games...which is nothing."
The emphasis on taking up responsibility and learning from mistakes is evident in how Odisha approached the Bengaluru game. They went two goals down, and lost two important foreign players, forcing Gombau to throw in 19-year-old striker Seiminmang Manchong. Manchong, Daniel and Jerry showed they were not afraid of reputations as they kept taking on the opposition defenders. Gombau's encouragement for the younger players, regardless of their mistakes, is constant.
Odisha now face their toughest part of the road to an unlikely playoffs spot -- matches against Goa and ATK to kick off their final four. Gombau reckons 28 or 29 points could be enough for a team to finish fourth after the league stages. That would mean nicking at least a point from the two big clubs, and doing that without Aridane -- who has since been replaced by former BFC striker Manuel Onwu -- will be Gombau's sternest challenge yet.
Gombau's post-match speech with the team is only about encouragement, though.
"He told us that our style is to keep the ball and to play with it," says Sarangi. "As a team, we need to do better. We need to go game-by-game, and we should take something positive from this season. We shouldn't feel like we have given it everything and still got left behind."
Gombau knows the enormity of the task on hand, but faces it with a smile. The Bengaluru fans know this is a team that doesn't take too many backward steps. As they cheer for him on the way to the bus, there's a chant from the fans.
"Brock Lesnar! Brock Lesnar! Brock Lesnar!"
Even amid that noise, there's genuine appreciation for the man who had led Delhi to a 3-2 win at Kanteerava a year ago.
Gombau looked at the fans and raised his thumb in appreciation, before disappearing into the team bus. There is more work to be done, and more edges to be smoothened.
Bhubaneswar-based Indian Super League (ISL) club Odisha FC on Friday announced that Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ashish Shah will no longer be with the club as his three-year contract with OFC ended after the 2019-20 season.
OFC President Rohan Sharma said: “I would like to thank Ashish for all the hard work he has done for the past three years. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him. He showed real integrity and class through all the ups and downs. I will have many fond memories with Ashish to look back on. Everybody at the club wishes him the best for the future.”
Shah added: “For me, the past 3 years at Odisha FC (formerly Delhi Dynamos FC) have been professionally the most challenging as well as rewarding period. I would like to thank the entire team – club owners, the Government of Odisha, colleagues, players, coaches and all our external partners – without whom we couldn’t have succeeded in this complex transition from Delhi to Odisha. The club has now an excellent base of infrastructure, fans and a sports support ecosystem from which I am sure it will go on to become one of the best run football clubs in India.”
Odisha FC welcomed Stuart Baxter as their new head coach on a two-year contract, the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) club confirmed on Friday. The Englishman was previously the head coach of South Africa as well as Finland, and comes with the experience of managing in Asia having been at the helm of Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vissel Kobe in the J1 League in Japan.
Speaking on his upcoming challenge in Indian football, Odisha FC's new head coach said, "I'm pleased to say that Odisha FC and I have reached an agreement for the upcoming ISL season. "I'm looking forward to the challenge of Indian football and the opportunity to develop players and coaches in India. I'd like to wish all the supporters, players and staff good health during these testing times."
"The vision of the Sharma family for the club representing the sporting state of Odisha is an exciting one with development, teamwork and cooperation with our stakeholders serving as cornerstones for the task ahead. Together we will bring joy and success to the region," he added.
A midfielder during his playing days, Baxter began his footballing career with Preston North End before going on to represent a host of other clubs from England, Scotland, Australia, Sweden and America. As head coach, he began his career with Swedish club Örebro SK’s youth team, while his first role in senior management came with Norway’s Idrettsforeningen Skarp, which was followed by a brief stint with Vitória Setubal in Portugal.
After returning to Sweden from Portugal, Baxter enjoyed a three-year spell with Halmstads BK, guiding them to promotion in his first season with the club. His first experience of coaching a team in Asia was with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, winning the J1 League title (1st stage) with the club. Baxter then moved to another Japanese club, Vissel Kobe before returning to Sweden again to manage AIK. The Englishman went on to win the league championship as coach of AIK and also lifted the Swedish football cup with them. He also managed Helsingborgs IF and won his second Swedish football cup with them before continuing his adventure on the international stage as Finland’s head coach.
After two years with Finland and a couple of years away from coaching, Baxter returned to club management and enjoyed plenty of success, joining South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs and guiding them to two Premier Soccer League triumphs as well as a domestic cup win.
"I am delighted to welcome Coach Stuart Baxter to Odisha FC! We conducted an extensive global search for a coach that matched our vision for the next phase of OFC. We are excited that Stuart is both motivated and experienced to create a championship club, develop our Indian starlets into national team players, & strengthen our youth academy, in order to have a consistent inflow of talent into OFC," Dr. Anil Sharma, CEO of Odisha FC's parent company GMS said about his club's new head coach.
He added to this, saying, "I am sure the fans and the Odia community will be pleased with our decision and welcome Coach Stuart to Odisha with open arms. I wish him good health and the very best of luck for a highly successful stay at Odisha FC."
With more than 25 years in management across three continents at the club and international level, Baxter brings an abundance of experience into the fold for Odisha. His track record of winning trophies also bodes well for the Bhubaneswar-based club. He will be taking over from Spanish head coach Josep Gombau under whom Odisha finished sixth last season.
Odisha have been busy in the transfer market with the signings of goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh, defenders George D’Souza, Kamalpreet Singh, Hendry Antonay and Saurabh Meher and midfielder Thoiba Singh Moirangthem. The appointment of Baxter comes as another boost for the club as well as another reason for their fans to be optimistic about ahead of the new season.