FC Goa underwent a dismaying season in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season as they were far off their best selves in an injury-riddled, managerial crisis, and a bio-bubble campaign that saw them finish in the ninth position.

With a paradigm shift at the club after the appointment of former FC Goa player Carlos Pena as the head coach, the Gaurs will potentially have an even break when it comes to challenging for the top honours and regaining their lost lofty ambitions.

The Director of Football at the Goan club, Ravi Puskur, elaborated on why FC Goa has the intent of returning to winning ways in an exclusive interview with TOI

Here are the excerpts from his interview:

Given that Carlos Pena has no experience coaching a senior team, is it a risky appointment?

Every coaching assignment is a risk, until it works out. We have a fairly decent assessment criteria for coaches, and in Carlos we have someone who is in similar mould to our previous coaches - Sergio [Lobera] and Juan [Ferrando] - who were hungry, ambitious, and trying to make a mark. I can understand why questions are being asked. Carlos’s appointment made a lot of sense because he comes with fresh ideas, has recent playing experience, understands the league, and more importantly, understands the club. Is it a risk? Yes, but we have to back our guts.

Is the team looking better than last season when FC Goa finished ninth among 11 teams?

From a recruitment perspective, we are quite satisfied. We had targeted certain players and waited till the coach was on board to sign them. During Covid, it dawned upon us that personalities have a big impact in the dressing room, in good moments and bad. We signed players who would bring in a certain amount of expectations with them in terms of what they can offer to us, on and off the field. It was very important to bring in a different mix. After finishing ninth, we could not continue with the same set of players.

In the last five years, Goan players have done well at the club, but with the exception of Jackichand Singh, Anwar Ali, and Aibhanbha Dohling to some extent, outstation players have not had the same amount of success. What do you think is the reason?

We are trying to figure out where we are going wrong. From a personal perspective, Goan players adapt well to the club, they find themselves in sync, in tune with how the club functions. But we never discriminate between a Goan player’s treatment a non-Goan. I just think Goan players have found it easier to understand the demands of the team. I do believe that Goan players are a little bit more sound tactically when it comes to certain things that are expected of them.

Does it also mean that probably the right players are not being scouted?

That’s one way to look at it and something we have to introspect. We are looking at things differently now. Previously, we were reliant on players who were technically skilled as a big criteria for us, so we focused a lot on their ability. Now, to ensure balance, we are trying to find players who have a more versatile skillset. Once they are on board, we try and develop the technical abilities in-house.    

Why is there so much focus on Spanish players at a time when successful teams have looked at other markets?

The coaches we have signed look at players who they have worked with (in the past) due to familiarity. We do believe that they can bring certain skills on and off the field that will help us as a football club. From my own experience, having seen multiple nationalities, Spanish players tend to adapt to us easier, particularly with the lifestyle. On the field too, they bring certain qualities. I have seen tactical refinement in Spanish players a lot better as compared to other nations. Spain is also a market that we know inside out, so we tried to take advantage of something that is tried and tested.

Personally, is there pressure to deliver?

After last season, anyone not feeling the pressure is in the wrong place. As a club, we are not here for the sake of existence. We are trying to achieve something on the field. Of course, there is pressure, but what’s important is for us to know how to handle it. Carlos and I are comfortable with the processes and the work that we have done with the team. I strongly believe in his methods, and how he has taken to the team is precisely what we were looking for. We have signed players and built a team with an intention to challenge for the top. For fans to keep coming to the stadium, for young players to have aspirations, everything is dependent on the performance of the team. That’s the main product of a football club and we have to deliver that [success].

Does it bother the club that despite plenty of semi-final appearances and two in the final, there is no Hero ISL champions trophy to show?

Don’t know if it bothers us, but it is something that is there at the back of our mind, 100%. Everybody at the club would want the ISL trophy. Obviously making the finals [twice] and losing has not helped the cause. It just adds to the feeling of unwanted satisfaction. But we do believe that this is a process that we have to go through and work with the belief that the trophy will come sooner rather than later.