FC Goa released a statement on Saturday, announcing the dismissal of their head coach Sergio Lobera. In a completely unexpected turn of events, where rumours starting flying around on social media late on Friday, along with all the possible reasons for his departure.
For anybody watching from the outside, the news came as a shocker due to the brilliant run of form that the Goan side has shown. Not just this season, but ever since Lobera was hired back in 2017. In the 60 matches where he was at the helm, there were a total of 33 wins, with a win percentage of 55%. But these numbers are unlikely to do justice to the top-quality football that was on display making them a team to beat, season after season.
At the time of this announcement, the team was sitting at the top with 30 points, after a 4-2 win over Odisha FC. The Spaniard, although, was unhappy with the team’s display in the second half despite bagging home all the three points, remarking that the performance wasn’t befitting a team that wants to win the title.
For a team that has been one of the most consistent sides in the ISL, lack of silverware has been their only drawback. This was until it was righted last season with a Super Cup win. Under the Spanish tactician, the team has been quite formidable, playing an attacking brand of football, that has been a delight to watch. In the past three seasons, Goa has led the scoring charts with 43, 41 and 32 goals respectively. They also made it to two successive playoffs, and even went on to play the finals last year.
But what set him apart, was the manner in which he was blooding Indian youngsters and especially the local talent. Mandar Rao Desai, Brandon Fernandes, Manvir Singh, Seriton Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues and several others have made their mark under him. Most of them have also gone on to make their national team debuts. This is one aspect that made Lobera find admirers across team lines. Such was his impact that he will possibly go down as one of the best coaches to have graced Indian football.
For those who were not in the know, the fact that some kind of discontent was simmering for some time now will come as a surprise. At no point did anybody in the management, or the technical staff, or any of the players give away what was happening. In this day and age of social media and sensationalism, and especially with such a high-profile club involved, it is quite refreshing.
This whole situation did not come to light until Friday when several reports emerged regarding Lobera’s exit from the club. Rumours were flying in thick and fast, and although the official statement from FC Goa on Saturday, gave nothing away, the statement from Sergio Lobera (above), and his assistant Jesus Rodriguez as well as conditioning coach Manuel Sayabera, hints at them being unhappy with the team management’s decision. At a juncture where the team has pretty much confirmed their Top 4 slot, but the race heating up to get to the top of the table with the AFC Champions League (ACL) at stake, the timing of the whole thing is quite bizarre.
In an email interview with The Week, Akshay Tandon, co-owner and president of FC Goa had said weeks ago that they would be going over Lobera’s contract extension only after the season was over. It is unlikely we will find out exactly what transpired sometime soon. But if reports are to be believed, Lobera was served the termination notice on Friday. It is learnt that there were plenty of internal issues, and the management was worried where the team was headed. Words like favouritism affecting team selection are also being thrown around. Along with this apparently the former Barcelona assistant coach has not had the management’s backing as he would have liked. He wanted to boost the squad further in the January transfer window, which the club officials did not agree to.
From being in a place where they were caught in a three-way race for the ACL slot and as the potential title contenders to right now where the Gaurs find themselves in a fix. With only three more league stage matches to go, and all of them requiring them to win, the team seem to have put themselves in a spot of bother. Having said that, if whatever happened behind the scenes was so drastic, that the management could not wait until the season was over, and the decision made was in the best interests of the club, all that the fans and spectators can do is wait.
For now, no head coach has been announced but the technical director, Derrick Pereira will be taking charge as the interim manager. FC Goa faces Hyderabad next on February 5th at home.