After arriving at Goan shores last month, FC Goa head coach Manolo Marquez is all set to begin his first assignment with the Gaurs as they gear up for the Durand Cup. The Men in Orange will kick-start their campaign on the 8th, when they take on Shillong Lajong FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.

Meanwhile, on Thursday in an interaction with media, Marquez opened up on how the 135-year-old tournament is not only a very important part of their preparations for the Indian Super League (ISL) but also a platform for them to start the season on a strong note.

“We all know that this is an important tournament with a lot of historical and cultural significance, not only in India but also when you take Asia as a whole. The tournament also kick-starts the second part of the pre-season for us. It’s hence a part of our pre-season preparations before the ISL begins, but obviously we respect the opportunity and we aim to qualify for the knockout stages after completing the three group stage games that we have as of now.

“We want to win the Durand Cup and start our league campaign on a strong note. Playing as many games as possible, qualifying for the semi-finals or the finals and so on will benefit us greatly,” the tactician explained.

No doubt that we’re one of the best teams

The 54-year-old signed a multi-year deal with FC Goa this summer, and is now focused on replicating the success he had at Hyderabad FC across a three-year stint.

“There are a lot of differences this season. There are a lot of new things to look at - given that I’m with a new team now. The players and I are still in the process of getting to know each other, seeing how each other works, what our best qualities are, and so on. In terms of our pre-season, we’re just done with the first phase of it, with more to follow,” he said.

“I’m aware about the expectations, but if you ask me, that’s fantastic. Football is for the fans, and it’s natural for them to expect success. I’d like to point out that there are several good teams this season, but let there be no doubt that we’re one of them as well.”

Manolo Marquez also revealed how he’s still exploring his options in terms of FC Goa’s squad strength at the Durand Cup, given how the foreign signings joined up with the rest of the team only recently.

“Right now, we have five out of six possible foreigners in the squad, training with the rest of their teammates here. Just like most other teams, we’ve also faced a lot of problems with players’ visas and so on which is why they arrived a bit later than expected. Some of them may not be able to play the full 90 minutes of matches.

“It’s going to be a challenge - at least six players in the playing XI will have to complete games because a maximum of five substitutions are allowed. The Indian players have been training for longer, so I think they’re more ready at the moment,” the Spaniard added.

Cannot take the opponents lightly

FC Goa have been drawn in Group D of the Durand Cup this time, alongside fellow-ISL outfit NorthEast United FC, Shillong Lajong FC and Downtown Heroes FC. While the Gaurs look stronger on paper compared to the other teams, Manolo Marquez refused to downplay the quality of their opponents.

“We’ll be playing against NorthEast United at Guwahati, which is their home ground. With a new head coach and several quality signings, they look ready to take on us. I’m sure that they will be a much better team this time than last season. Shillong Lajong and Downtown Heroes are also great teams. Lajong’s players, for instance, run a lot and work hard during matches,” he commented.

“They may look like small teams but I’d like to make it clear that we respect them. In addition, they will be all the more motivated when they play against teams like ours, given how we play in the ISL and so on. Let me remind you that last year, when I was with Hyderabad FC, they were defeated by Army Red in the same tournament.”

“We have to remain focused on ourselves, work hard in training sessions and execute our plans to the dot during matches. We want to qualify for the knockouts and take a shot at winning the title, so it’s very important not to make mistakes. One defeat is all that it takes to end all our hopes of qualifying,” Marquez went on.

The former Espanyol and Las Palmas coach also opened up on the Gaurs’ squad overhaul in the summer, saying “I think that in modern football, this is a normal thing. You have to adapt to the times, and that’s what our new players are also doing here right. It’s not a problem, especially because most of them have plenty of experience playing in the ISL, with different teams.

“The challenge for me would be to maintain the style and philosophy that FC Goa are known for, and to ensure that our new signings are also aligning well with it. We have definitely worked on this a lot in the past few weeks, and we’ll see how it goes in the first game, in a few days’ time,” he concluded.

Following their campaign opener with Lajong, the Men in Orange will face NorthEast United on the 12th and Downtown Heroes on the 16th.