Diego Mauricio, Odisha FC's talisman and finally a Golden Boot winner
When Diego Mauricio was signed for Odisha FC in 2020, the wishes of the fans were simple. The Brazilian striker would top the Golden Boot chart and help the Juggernauts to qualify for the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) playoffs. At the end of the 2020-21 season, neither of the wishes got materialized. The club finished at the bottom of the table and Mauricio was just three goals short of the Golden Boot award.
Just two years later, in 2022, the Brazilian landed in Odisha to complete an unfinished business in the Hero ISL and he did it in style. At the end of this season, Diego Mauricio became the first player from Odisha FC to win the Golden Boot award and helped Odisha FC to qualify for their first ever playoffs.
Diego Mauricio in Hero ISL:
Odisha FC started planning for this season with their first-ever playoff qualification in their mind. To materialize the ambition, the club brought back the names who are familiar with the city. Joseph Gombau was appointed as the head coach and their prolific scorer, Mauricio was brought back from Mumbai City FC. During his early stint with the Juggernauts in the 2020-21 season, the Brazilian has scored 12 goals and remained a bright spot in the forgettable season.
Mauricio arrived at Bhubaneswar after a brief yet impressive spell with Mumbai City FC in 2022. The 31-year-old scored twice in Mumbai City FC’s AFC Champions League campaign helping them do the double over Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya allowing the Islanders to finish second in the group. As expected by the OFC fans, Mauricio started finding goals on a regular occasion and propelled the Juggernauts into the playoff spot.
Impact of Mauricio on Odisha FC this season:
This season, the Brazilian scored as many goals as his previous stint with Odisha FC, but the difference is the importance of these 12 goals. The striker has scored some clinical goals in the crucial moments that helped them sneak into the playoff spots. And it is fitting for the club and player that the first and last goals of the club in this season were scored by Mauricio.
Odisha FC started the campaign with a comeback win against Jamshedpur FC, which became a trademark for the club this season. Mauricio scored the winner against the Red Miners in the added time and started the Juggernauts' season on a positive note.
After a bright start to the season, Odisha FC struggled to get the points on the board. Between Matchweek 10 and Matchweek 13, the club got just one point from a potential 12. Mid-season fatigue was evident when they lost 2-4 against Mumbai City FC at home. When the fans started to lose hope in the season, Mauricio brought life back to the team with his scoring boots. In a must-win game against East Bengal FC, the Brazilian scored the brace and put OFC back into the top-six race.
In 4-2-3-1 formation, Mauricio was the preferred striker upfront but when the coach wanted to include Pedro Martin in the XI, the Brazilian acted in the number 10 role as well and provided four assists in this season. Joseph Gombau nicely summed up the importance of Mauricio in the OFC camp, "We need him. We need his goals. His goals bring extra motivation to him and also confidence to all of us."
Similarly, an the business end of the season, Odisha FC had a tough run of fixtures against their direct playoff rivals, FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC. When the occasion demanded a mature performance from the team, the experienced striker delivered. In both the matches, Mauricio scored back-to-back goals and helped the team get two crucial points in the playoff race.
The advantage became a disadvantage:
The dependence of Odisha FC on Mauricio became evident and the teams started to sketch a separate plan for the striker. Odisha FC lost the last league match against Jamshedpur FC and the knockout game against ATK Mohun Bagan. In both the matches, Mauricio was heavily man-marked, as the Brazilian failed to score even a goal, the Juggernauts faced the defeat and ended the campaign without qualifying for the semi-final.
The strong statistics of the striker:
As they say, facts speak for themselves. In the attacking statistics, the OFC's number-nine tops almost all the charts within the club. In this season, Mauricio has 12 goals to his name, the joint highest in the league along with another Brazilian, Cleiton Silva of East Bengal FC and Dimitri Petratos of ATK Mohun Bagan. But Mauricio won the Golden Boot award as he scored a dozen goals in 1536 minutes, which is 242 minutes and 555 minutes less than Silva and Petratos respectively. The 31-year-old also fired the highest number of shots (58) in the OFC camp with highest accuracy of 41.37%. In addition to the goals, his boots also provided four vital assists, the highest by any OFC player this season.
First ever playoff to first ever silverware:
This season, Mauricio featured in all the 21 matches of Odisha FC and thus his influence in the first-ever playoffs qualification of the Juggernauts can't be overstated. The club management acknowledged the role of the Brazilian and handed over the one year extension to the Brazilian. With the Golden Boot award in his bag, in the upcoming season, Mauricio would fancy his first ever Hero ISL title from the city of Bhubaneswar.