FC Goa had a forgetful Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 campaign. While they finished the last game of the season on a high note, the Gaurs had a rather bleak season overall given the lofty standards they’ve set for themselves over the years as they finished ninth in the league table.

Putting past the troubles caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, injuries, and a key managerial departure behind them, the Gaurs have already planned a roadmap for the upcoming season with the appointment of former FC Goa player Carlos Pena as the head coach.

Also Read: Six first team players leave FC Goa

Pena seems to have widespread support within the club and defender Aiban Dohling is no exception.

The defender, who joined the Gaurs ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, didn’t feature much and remained on the bench in his debut Hero ISL season where Pena was on the defensive forefront of the Sergio Lobera-led side.

“Prior to joining FC Goa, I was at Shillong Lajong – the I-League club from my home state, Meghalaya. At that time, I was already a fan of FC Goa and that was why I signed for them,” Dohling stated in an exclusive interview with The Meghalayan.

“And I have only fond memories of my time with Carlos (Pena). We did not play together much, but I learned a lot from him. He was always helpful to the other players, and would never hesitate to offer us help or advice,” he added.

Dohling played just one game for the Gaurs in the 2019-20 campaign where he shared the field with then defender Pena in their final league game against Jamshedpur FC, defeating them 5-0 to become the eventual winners of the inaugural League Winners’ Shield.

“I came on as a substitute in the second half, and got first-hand experience of how Carlos marshalled our backline. He was constantly giving instructions to us and appreciating our efforts,” he added.

“During our training sessions, he would do the same thing, using words of encouragement to make us give it our all. It worked well, and to-date I keep some of his words in mind whenever I am out on the pitch,” the 26-year-old stated.

The defender gradually developed into the first team player during the 2020-21 campaign, featuring in eight games along with an appearance in the AFC Champions League game.

The following season, Dohling made his way into the team as a starter on the team sheet. Making 16 appearances in the season, he managed 34 interceptions, 33 clearances, 32 tackles, and 22 blocks besides adding three goal contributions in the fray, paving his way as an integral member of the playing XI.

With continuous impressive performances as a defender, Dohling has the potential to excel under Pena and will be a key figure in his side.

“Carlos easily understands players like me and knows what it takes to stay on this level. That is another reason why I’m excited – you never stop learning as a footballer, and who better to do it from than your coach who is also a former defender?” Dohling said.

“We’ve also lacked in terms of winning mentality following the lows of last season. Being someone who knows how it feels to lay hands on trophies, Carlos Pena will surely be helping us get back our mentality as well," he added.

The Meghalayan-born defender also spoke about the development of footballers from northeast India. 

“The northeast has always been a treasure trove of football players. ISL has helped by making us more visible. That is also one of the reasons why I appreciate FC Goa, they acknowledge our quality and give us a platform to showcase our abilities.”

“Dheeraj [Singh], Makan Chote, Nongdamba [Naorem], and myself have benefited greatly from the club’s support, and we will strive to give back our very best,” he concluded.