Churchill Brothers, Goa’s only representative in the 10th I-League, return to the competition after 2014 with a slew of youngsters, no foreigners and a stand-in coach. They open against heavyweights Mohun Bagan here on Sunday with a roster completely removed from the sides that won two editions of the I-League.
“We trained for just five days before travelling,” said Alfred Fernandes, who is deputising for coach Joseph Afusi. The Goa Pro League ended on December 31 and the players began getting ready for the I-League on Monday, said Fernandes, a former Churchill Brothers player and who has been a constant on the coaching staff even as his bosses came and went over the past 10 years.
Though Fernandes isn’t expecting all four imports before the third round, he said Churchill Brothers are eyeing a top-four finish in a league where, with three teams immune from relegation, finishing seventh could mean demotion. “If you don’t have ambition, what is the point of competing,” said Fernandes. Time will tell whether such a claim is at odds with the way Churchill Brothers have assembled their squad.
Drafted into the league last month, after being removed for failing to meet licensing criteria, Churchill Brothers have tried to make the best of Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa pulling out this term.
Skipper Keenan Almeida is a former Salgaocar defender and he said there are five players from Dempo and one from Sporting Clube de Goa. Adding experience to what is largely an under-23 team are 30-year-old defender Denzel Franco, who won the I-League with Churchill Brothers in 2012-13, and wide midfielder Clifford Miranda, who is 34 but has three I-League titles with Dempo.
Playing with 15 under-20 players, Churchill Brothers finished eighth in the 11-team Goa Pro League this term. “Once you are not in the I-League, you could lose motivation to run the team,” said a former Goa Football Association official over the phone from Panaji. Even team patron Churchill Alemao, a regular follower of football in Goa, would only occasionally come for the games.
When told that his political commitments could be a reason -- Alemao is with the Nationalist Congress Party, where federation president Praful Patel is a senior functionary -- it was pointed out that even when he held three portfolios in Goa, Alemao would make time for Churchill Brothers’ games. That two of his six brothers died between 2014 and now could have also contributed to the family-run club’s struggles.