Gombau’s legacy: Fearless football with focus on the youngsters

Odisha FC, on Wednesday, announced that head coach Josep Gombau has parted ways with the club amicably due to certain family obligations. While the Spaniard's enigmatic figure will definitely be missed on the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) stage for the foreseeable future, Gombau leaves behind a legacy which will only serve to enrich Indian football going forward.

Gombau arrived in India back in 2018 with the pedigree of having worked with the youth setups of Barcelona and the Australian national team, besides having coached several clubs across the globe. He took over the Delhi Dynamos FC squad heading into Hero ISL 2018-19 and helped guide a very young side to an eighth-placed finish even after a terribly slow start to their campaign.

With the Dynamos shifting base to Bhubaneswar, Odisha, before the 2019-20 season, the Spaniard was entrusted with guiding the newly-christened Odisha FC team in their debut campaign in the Hero ISL. Despite working with a very young squad yet again and having to overcome several adversities like injuries to key players throughout the season, he guided the squad to a sixth place finish – a marked improvement from the previous season.

Despite not making it to the top four in any of his two seasons in the Hero ISL, Gombau's demeanour, style of play and ability to bring the best out of young players in the toughest of situations, prompted fans to weigh the Spaniard's effectiveness and success with a different scale than the conventional one.

Gombau's ability to put trust on the Indian youngsters in crunch situations and encouraging them to play a brand of fearless possession-based attacking football has been a boon to several young players like Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nandhakumar Sekar, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Shubham Sarangi, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Mohammad Dhot, Vinit Rai and others. In the process, he also helped to substantially strengthen the supply line to the national team, with the likes of Chhangte already having already established himself as a regular in Igor Stimac’s India squad.

In fact, the Spaniard's way of conducting things earned him great respect from opposition coaches as well. Former Chennaiyin boss and Hero ISL 2017-18-winning head coach John Gregory once opined, "Josep, he produces good footballing teams. His teams play good football. If we give the ball away to them, we know they’ve got the capability of looking after it. We always need to be switched on against them.” India head coach Stimac, too, has praised Gombau’s work with youngsters in the past.

In his parting statement, Gombau noted, “It wasn't an easy decision to make. I have enjoyed my time at Odisha and I am proud of what I built there. It is with some regret that I can't finish what I started, but I will always be rooting for the success of Odisha FC.” He might be leaving his work in India unfinished, but what he has inculcated into Indian football already will undoubtedly play a big part in how the beautiful game flourishes in the country.

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