ISL Team Profile: Newbies Odisha wear a formidable look

Key men
From left: Odisha FC manager Josep Gombau and winger Xisco Hernandez
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The name Odisha FC might sound new to the Indian football enthusiasts, but they are not a ‘new’ team in the true sense. They are the newly-formed version of the now-defunct Delhi Dynamos who were forced to relocate from the national capital to Bhubaneswar due to economic and administrative reasons.

The switch to Odisha means that the GMS Group-owned club will now play their home games at the iconic Kalinga Stadium. The venue used to be the home ground of the All India Football Federation’s developmental side, Indian Arrows, in the I-League.

In fact, Odisha’s core team bears some resemblance to last year’s Delhi squad, but Spanish tactician Josep Gombau, who is the first manager to survive more than a season at the franchise, has managed to plug the obvious loopholes and build a strong and cohesive team.

Dynamos had a poor run in the last two years as they finished out of the top six on both occasions. However, Gombau has retained some of the prominent players from last season apart from securing the services of some of the brightest prospects in Indian football.

The management has brought in a host of proven players such as Senegalese international and former Barcelona B player Diawandou Diagne and Argentine creative midfielder Martin Guedes. Spanish centre-back Carlos Javier Delgado, and former Bengaluru FC winger Xisco Hernandez have also been roped in to bolster the new team.

They will join a bunch of extremely talented Indian players including former Chennai City FC defender Gaurav Bora and talented youngster Jerry Mawihmingthanga. The club has two players hailing from Odisha, with midfielder Shubham Sarangi and goalkeeper Ankit Bhyuan representing the home state.

Aridane to spearhead attack

Spaniard Aridane Jesus Santana Cabrera, known simply as Aridane, will lead Odisha FC’s attack. The 32-year-old forward is on a one-year loan from Spanish Segunda Division B (third division) side Cultural and Sports Leonesa. This will be his second stint in Asia. He has played for Bangkok Glass FC in 2015, making 16 appearances and scoring nine goals in the process. The other forwards in their line-up are young Indians Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Seiminmang Manchong, and Shubham Sarangi.

Midfield flaunts top players

Odisha have retained Spanish midfielder Marcos Tebar, who was in fine form for Delhi last season. The acquisition of Hernandez, whose prowess was on display for Bengaluru FC last year, will definitely shore up their midfield. The other two foreigners - Diagne and Guedes – will also help them dictate the terms at the centre of the pitch. The Indians in Odisha’s midfield packed with foreigners are Bikramjit Singh and Vinit Rai.

Strong defence

The 21-year-old Gaurav Bora was a rock in the defence for the 2018-19 I-League champions Chennai City FC. The presence of Spanish centre-back Carlos Delgado will also add great value to the team. A product of Malaga CF, Delgado has played for Almeria and Valencia among others and is known for his never-say-die attitude.

They have also signed local talents Rana Gharami, Amit Tudu, Mohammed Sajid Dhot, Narayan Das, and Pradeep Mohanraj to solidify their backline.

Former Dynamos shot-stopper Francisco Dorronsoro will be Odisha’s first-choice goalkeeper. The vastly experienced 34-year-old has turned for different clubs in the Spanish league. Young Indians Arshdeep Singh, Albino Gomes, and Ankit Bhuyan will be his deputies.

The gaffer

Apart from Chennaiyin’s John Gregory, the 43-year-old Gombau is the only manager in this edition of the ISL who has managed to keep his job despite having a disastrous last season. A former FC Barcelona youth team coach, he has held multiple positions at Barcelona academies. He has had coaching stints with different sides such as Kitchee FC (Hong Kong), Adelaide United, Australia U-23s and the Western Sydney Wanderers as well.

Player to watch

Xisco Hernandez

Xisco was one of the key members of Bengaluru’s ISL title-winning squad last year. For the Blues, the 30-year-old scored one goal and provided five assists in 20 matches while completing 703 passes with a passing average of 68.42 per cent. He is known to be a technically superior player who has an eye for the perfect pass. A product of RCD Mallorca youth academy, Xisco comes in with a bag full of experience, having played most of his career in the Spanish Segunda Division B. A versatile player, he can be deployed in multiple positions like the central midfield, attacking midfielder as well as on the flanks.

Strengths

A solid midfield and backline

The strong crowd support is expected to have a positive impact on the team

Weaknesses

The loss of Lallianzuala Chhangte, who was an integral part of Delhi line-up, will be felt

Over-dependence on foreign recruits. Most of the domestic players in Odisha’s ranks lack quality to match the best in the business

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