Clifford Miranda took over the reins at Odisha FC as interim head coach just days after the club had parted company with head coach Josep Gombau. The Spaniard’s exit had raised plenty of eyebrows, given that Gombau had guided Odisha FC to the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 playoffs for the first time in history.

With the Hero Super Cup fast approaching, all Miranda had was just a few weeks to evaluate his players and get them ready for the tournament. With only the winner from each of the four groups advancing to the semi-finals, there was no room for any slip-up. Odisha FC didn’t have the best of starts, sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw against East Bengal FC. However, Miranda soon regrouped his side as they beat the likes of Aizawl FC and Hyderabad FC, before getting the better of NorthEast United FC in the semi-finals.

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Featuring in their first-ever final, Miranda ensured a strong end to the season for Odisha FC by leading them past the finish line. They held their nerves to beat Bengaluru FC 2-1 in the summit clash, fighting with dogged determination and belief to claim their first silverware. It was not only a historic feat for Odisha FC, but for Miranda as well, who became the first Indian head coach to win the Hero Super Cup.

“Miranda was a breath of fresh air coming in over Gombau. It was surprising to see Gombau depart after that playoff defeat to ATK Mohun Bagan. Miranda instilled a better team spirit, there seemed a lot more togetherness than what it was towards the end of the Hero ISL,” says commentator Mark Tompkins.

Playing with a new identity

Not many touted Odisha FC as favourites at the start of the tournament, but under Miranda, the Bhubaneswar-based side defied the odds and went all the way up. They played to their strengths while maintaining a defensive solidity at the back. Miranda also instilled a fighting mentality in his players as the Juggernauts ended the tournament unbeaten. They went down thrice – twice during their group stage matches and once in the semi-final – but won two of those games and drew the other.

“He was able to make them play free-flowing football but also the quickness in defensive transition improved and that stems from watching a lot of football as Odisha FC’s assistant head coach this year,” explains Hero ISL expert Erik Paartalu.

“I think his tactics were spot on. He still kept to Gombau’s philosophy of playing out from the back but made them more resilient getting back into shape, quickly defending as one unit and closing gaps that were once there during the Hero ISL,” he added.

Players stepping up

Miranda made a few tweaks in Odisha FC’s playing eleven that paid dividends. While the attack consisting of Nandhakumar Sekar, Diego Mauricio, and Jerry Mawihmingthanga remained the same, there were few changes in the middle of the park and defence. Miranda found the perfect balance in midfield, opting with the trio of Thoiba Singh, Princeton Rebello, and Victor Rodriguez. Osama Malik, who on most occasions was deployed as a defensive midfielder under Gombau, moved to the heart of the defence, forming a partnership with the experienced Carlos Delgado.

Odisha FC ended the Hero Super Cup with a whopping 11 goals across five games while conceding just four goals. He stuck with the same eleven since the knockout game against Hyderabad FC while the players coming off the bench also had an impact.

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“Clifford was able to manage the players' expectations and motivation levels at the end of the season. He fine tuned things that perhaps Gombau was overlooking or not paying attention to. He certainly reinvigorated Victor Rodriguez and had them looking so sharp and hungry,” Paartalu asserts.

Tompkins says: “Look at the likes of Princeton, he didn’t feature much under Gombau but was ever-present in the Hero Super Cup. Miranda found a way to not only get the best out of his Indian players but also his foreign players. Delgado and Malik were superb at the back and they had a great goalkeeper in Amrinder (Singh) with vast experience. Mauricio had a new hunger in him for the Hero Super Cup. He was the player of the tournament and played absolutely brilliantly. Even with the course of changes Miranda made during the match, it all seemed to come together and the tactics were good.”

He adds: “He brought the best out of his players. And man management is all about the way you handle the dressing room and the players and Miranda did that brilliantly. He got everything spot on including his tactics.”

For Miranda, there is a lot that lies ahead. Odisha FC take on last season’s Hero I-League champions Gokulam Kerala FC in the Hero Club Playoffs on Saturday, with a chance for the winner to seal a direct entry into the AFC Cup 2023-24 group stage. Winning that would be the perfect icing on the cake for Miranda, who has already proved what Indian coaches are capable of.