FC Goa announced on Saturday that they and head coach Zico have “mutually” parted ways after three seasons of the Indian Super League (ISL). The franchise finished last among eight teams this term.
With there being no clarity yet as to when ISL4 will kick-off because India hosts the under-17 World Cup this October, a replacement hasn’t been named but the franchise said, as a first step, it would appoint a technical director clued into football in India.
“FC Goa and its head coach for the past three seasons, Mr. Arthur Antunes Coimbra (Zico) have mutually decided against exercising the option of extending the contract. Keeping the logistical challenges of the upcoming season in mind, the two parties amicably came to this decision,” the franchise said, in a media release from Panaji on Saturday morning.
“In its immediate next steps, the club is in the process of appointing a Technical Director who has the relevant coaching experience and scouting knowledge within the Indian footballing ecosystem. FC Goa strongly feels that this would be an important step in laying the foundations for the long term, and help achieve sustainable growth of the club and Indian players. Over the time, the club is keen to ensure that the dependancy on foreign players is limited and this in turn will give the Indian players the platform to make the biggest impact.”
Zico’s arrival in 2014 made exactly the kind of impact the ISL would have wanted on a new competition. The Brazilian legend, who along with Socrates is perhaps football’s most famous name to have never won a World Cup, took FC Goa to the semi-finals in the first season after losing four of their first six games. It was in their fifth game that FC Goa notched up their first win, a comeback effort against Delhi Dynamos.
Changing most of his coaching staff after the early slump, Zico helmed FC Goa to a second-place finish behind Chennaiyin FC after the league phase, the team winning five of their last eight games and remaining unbeaten after the seventh round. They lost to eventual champions Atletico de Kolkata in the semifinals in the tie-breaker after both legs ended goalless.
The next season, FC Goa did even better making the final which they hosted. From the start, they stayed within touching distance of the leaders and notched up a 7-0 win against Mumbai City FC, the highest of the competition with Indian striker Thongkhosiem Haokip notching up a hattrick. FC Goa ended the league phase on top of the standings and beat Delhi Dyanoms 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals, erasing a 0-1 defeat in the first leg through goals from Jofre Matteu, Raphael Coelho and Dudu Omagbemi.
FC Goa were on the verge of winning ISL2 with Jofre putting them in 2-1 with three minutes to go only for an own-goal and one from Stiven Mendoza in stoppage-time that helped Chennaiyin FC escape to victory.
The final ended in a fracas with FC Goa skipping the prize distribution ceremony, its owner Dattaraj Salgaocar accusing Chennaiyin FC marquee Elano Blumer of hitting him and lodging a complaint with the police which saw the former Brazil international spend time in a police station on his team’s biggest night.
ISL2 final sealed fate
Looking back, it can be said that was night Zico’s fate was sealed as what followed thereafter was a long-drawn legal battle between FC Goa and the league which ended with the team getting new owners in July, 2016.
The uncertainty over ownership and how FC Goa would be punished in Season 3 led to a number of key players leaving the club. Among them was Brazilian Leo Moura, who played an important role in season 2 with eight assists and two goals. The foreigners too, most of whom were Brazilians and hand-picked by the coach, failed to deliver and marquee Lucio, 38, played only 292 minutes in five games. Also, FC Goa went into season 3 with perhaps the weakest set of Indian players in the competition. Zico apologised to the fans but really, he was let down by his players.
Legacy could seem an inappropriate word in a tournament only three seasons old but Zico would be remembered for walking the talk about wanting to develop Indian footballers. In a competition where six foreigners can be part of the playing 11, Zico often gave more Indian players a chance. Against Northeast United on November 11, Zico had started eight Indians and won 2-1.
While other coaches came to the ISL to build reputations, Zico came to help football in India. That is how his stint with FC Goa should be remembered.