Odisha FC have seen an upturn in fortunes after a difficult first few seasons in the Indian Super League (ISL). The Bhubaneshwar-based club qualified for the playoffs for the first time in the ISL 2022-23 season before going on to win the Super Cup and booking a place in the AFC Cup 2023-24 group stage.

After a summer of some big transfers and the arrival of head coach Sergio Lobera, Odisha FC’s prospects for the upcoming season are looking very bright.

The Kalinga Warriors have signed the likes of Ahmed Jahouh, Roy Krishna, Mourtada Fall, Amey Ranawade, Lenny Rodrigues, Puitea, Laldinliana Renthlei and Jerry Lalrinzuala to strengthen their squad.

Club president Raj Athwal who joined the club during the 2020-21 season spoke about the club’s transformation, his vision for the club, their new signings and the upcoming ISL season that will feature 12 teams during an interview with Firstpost.

Here are the excerpts from the interview.

On transforming the fortunes of Odisha FC

Coming last is obviously difficult for any club, especially for the owners.

So, we dived deep and tried to look at the whole structure on and off the pitch where we could improve, what aspects we needed to look at right across from our scouting to the managerial side, the players’ facilities, and everything.

However, within two years we have gone on to finish in the playoff positions, win the Hero Super Cup, win the Golden Boot award and qualify for the prestigious AFC Cup competition.

On Odisha FC's long-term vision

On the pitch, there has to be a pathway for local players, boys and girls to become integrated within the system and eventually enable them to have the opportunities to compete for a first-team place.

So, we are responsible for reaching out and giving these kids and their families the confidence to trust the process and off the pitch we need to create synergies between the local community while also pertaining to the global vision as well and we do see ourselves as a global club.

On signing big foreign players ahead of ISL 2023-24

My view is that players from overseas have a positive impact on the team as playing alongside good quality players makes them better and brings wider knowledge and skills.

The Indian players may not necessarily have that and can pick up from foreign players. It’s very important that the young players learn the good habits of the foreign players.

It’s not just the football skillset. It’s also off the pitch, their nutrition, how they conduct themselves, and how they live.

On the fans’ support

First, I want to thank the Juggernauts. They’ve been good to us even during our difficult times. They’ve been brilliant for the club. We’ve had difficult times and they’ve just supported us. I have always said to the supporters whatever I do I will always give you 100%.

On a longer ISL season with 12 teams

It’s great news because we’ve got another region in India that perhaps wasn’t represented in the Indian Super League.

During my time in India, I’ve seen a marked improvement year on year in the competition and this season is going to be quite fierce. It’s going to be a very tight season, and hence the reason we’re trying to invest wisely, to ensure that we have the best opportunity.

We can do this but it also means there’ll be a lot more Indian players coming through the ranks which then not only helps domestically but helps internationally as well. And so more teams equate to more Indian players being developed and in the system and further improves the standards of the competition.