As the Indian Super League 19-20 was reaching its peak with FC Goa perched up top, the club sacked Sergio Lobero.
The same coach who had guided them to a runner-up finish last season while ending their wait for a trophy by lifting the Super Cup.
Clifford Miranda stepped in for the rest of the season, keeping the Gaurs at the top of the table and earning the first ever AFC Champions League Group Stage spot for an Indian side.
Ultimately, however, his side came up short in the ISL play-offs in a 5-6 aggregate against Chennaiyin FC.
Dawn of a new era?
Following the close of the season, the club moved to sign Juan Ferrando, another Spanish tactician who prefers an attractive, possession-based game to break down opponents.
Ferrando had previously worked alongside Arsene Wenger at Arsenal as a fitness coach and more recently guided Greek side, Volos FC, to back to back promotions in his two years at the club.
The close of the season also saw the departure of the league’s record goalscorer Ferran Corominas, league regulars Jakichand Singh and the now-retired Carlos Pena.
Also, key players including captain Mandar Rao Dessai, last season’s standout performer, Hugo Boumous, Ahmed Jahouh and Murtada Fall left a huge void as they fulfilled Lobero’s wishlist at Mumbai City.
While Ferrando may have a similar outlook on the game as Lobero, clearly he will have to implement this with a fresh squad.
The off-season has seen the club sign players including James Donachie, Sanson Pereira and Ivan Gonzales to shore up the back, Jorge Oritz, Redeem Tlang, Phrangki Buam and Alberto Noguera to fill in the middle of the park, while Igor Angulo and Ishan Pandita come in to lead the attack.
Ferrando ensured successive promotions at Volos FC through a brand of possession-based, tactical, and attacking football that fans may already be familiar with.
And while the coach may already have most of his task cut out for him, a welcome improvement would be to fill in the gaps that his predecessor couldn’t while playing sides that resisted their positional approach – converting an already formidable outfit into one unbeatable unit.
A season to look forward to
In spite of the massive change in personnel, there will be plenty to look forward to with a fresh and exciting squad and coach firmly in place ahead of the new season.
While the foreign players may have had little time to acclimatise to the club and country, each of them would have a point to prove and there will be some exciting encounters in store this season.
Like déjà vu
Two entertaining and super-charged affairs await when the Gaurs take the field against their old coach AND former teammates donning the Mumbai blues.
Will Goa prevail in spite of playing against some of their best former players? Or will Lobero get one (or two) over his old club, knowing what they’re all about?
It’s all too nerve-wracking to think of right now and this will be talked about well after the games are done, but for now, all we can do is wait for the first fixture at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on the 25th of November.
A strong case of the blues
Ever since Bengaluru FC entered the ISL in the 2017/18 season, Goa have faced the Blues seven times, including a tense final last season, when Rahul Bheke scored at the very end of extra time.
In all, the Gaurs have but one win to boast of, all the way back in 2017. They may have been a free scoring side under Lobero, but their record against BFC epitomises their struggle in breaking down defensive, counterattacking formations, which is one of the areas Ferrando would certainly choose to focus on moving forward.
And with the club getting the new season underway at home against the Blues, the wait isn’t too long to find out what the team have been working on.
The Bengal factor
With the merger of ATK with Mohun Bagan and the arrival of SC East Bengal, the ISL is now 11-members strong and the league gets that much harder.
Despite the late arrivals and a limited pre-season, the squad will now have to shape up if they are to match up to the form that took them to the top of the table last season.
Big boots to fill
With the departures of Coromina, Boumous, Jakichand, and Fall, Goa have effectively lost the players who scored more than half their entire goal tally last season.
Expectations now fall on the new signings, particularly Oritz and Angulo who bring with them a reputation of flair, versatility and goals.
The club would also be optimistic about young prospects announcing themselves on the big stage with players like Princeton Rebello and Saviour Gama making themselves known last season and similar opportunities could present themselves to the likes of Pandita, Pereira, and Buam this season.