Lobera’s sacking brought team closer than ever: Eduardo Bedia
Sergio Lobera’s departure caught him unawares but the shock to the system brought the team together, said FC Goa’s Spanish midfielder Eduardo ‘Edu’ Bedia. “I was surprised that the coach was sacked,” said Bedia who recently extended his contract with the Indian Super League (ISL) team till the end of 2021-2022. “But it came at a crucial time and there was no time to think about it. We had to move forward and that brought the team closer than ever.”
When Lobera left on January 31, FC Goa had played 15 rounds winning nine and losing three. They were table-toppers but in a seesaw battle with ATK for the sole Asian Champions League berth that would go to the team in pole position at the end of the league phase. In three seasons under Lobera, FC Goa’s possession-based attacking football had found many takers and they were successful too having made the semi-finals in 2017-18, the final next term when they also won the Super Cup.
So, when Lobera left and the tag team of Derrick Pereira and Clifford Miranda was put in charge, there was work to be done. FC Goa sealed the top spot in the league standings - in some style, beating Hyderabad FC 4-1; Mumbai City FC 5-2 and Jamshedpur FC 5-0 in their last three league games - and will be India’s first representatives at Asian football’s high table.
And then the campaign spectacularly unravelled. Away to Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa lost 1-4 in the first leg of the semi-final, all goals coming in a pulsating second half. “We were missing a few key players,” said Bedia on Google Meet on Thursday. FC Goa were without midfielders Brandon Fernandes and Hugo Boumous. And they were without Bedia who had gone home to be wife Eliosa who was expecting their child.
“In the second leg, we rushed too much. We tried to close the semi-final in the first half and so in the second half, we suffered,” said Bedia. Up 2-0 at half-time, FC Goa were a goal away from pushing Chennaiyin FC into extra-time but the visitors scored twice by the 59th minute. FC Goa won the return leg 4-2 but lost 5-6 on aggregate. FC Goa had also lost to Chennaiyin FC in the 2017-18 semi-finals. “We were the better team then,” said Bedia.
Time to rebuild
With a clutch of players and coach gone, FC Goa will have to rebuild. Bedia and Boumous are the only imports they have retained so far. Mourtada Fall has left and Carlos Pena has retired, meaning the inner defence will have a new pairing in 2020-21. Ferran Corominas, who has scored 48 goals in 57 games since joining in 2017-18, hasn’t yet signed a new deal. Mandar Rao Desai, who was with the team since the first season of ISL in 2014, Jackichand Singh, Manvir Singh and Chinglensana Singh too have left.
“Keeping the core of the team for three years was very difficult but we managed. This season, it is our turn (to rebuild). My role will be the same as the last three seasons: to help the new Indian and foreign players especially the foreign players. This is my fourth year in Goa and I know the life here, on and off the pitch,” said Bedia, 31.
Bedia, who can play No.10 but prefers a deeper role as No. 6 or No. 8, said he is happy in Goa but that wasn’t the only reason for staying back. “FC Goa deserve to get a trophy. We have won the Super Cup and qualified for the Champions League but winning ISL will be like the icing on the cake,” he said.
Of course, it helps that new coach Juan Ferrando doesn’t want to overhaul their way of playing. “He (Ferrando) has been watching a lot of ISL games and AFC Champions League. We are discussing different aspects of Indian football. I have also told him about India, things like you often need to travel two days before a match and that you can’t train in the morning because of the heat. But I have also said, ‘no matter how much I tell you, you have to come and experience India’,” said Bedia.
It could be a while before that happens but Bedia, who became a father last month - “it is the most beautiful feeling in the world but I am getting no sleep,” he said - can’t wait. “Last season, I had a lot of injuries. This time I hope to be 100%,” said Bedia missed six games due to a groin problem.
The past few months have been really tough because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. “Being safe was the goal but there is a psychological aspect to staying indoors for three months.” Some cycling and strength training with resistance bands are all Bedia, who spent four seasons at Racing Santander and one each at 1860 Munich, Barcelona B and Zaragoza, could do.
That is why he suggested a longer pre-season. “There are two aspects to resuming football: fitness level and injuries. We need to start from scratch and so we will need longer-than-usual pre-season. With practice games and matches you will get back to fitness but for that you need to be injury free. So we need more time,” he said. No date has yet been set for the start of ISL, which ran from October-March last term.
Football has begun at home and Bedia said it felt weird watching La Liga at empty stadiums. “It was like watching practice games of 11v11where there is no pressure or excitement. I think the players too are not feeling that pressure. I hope by the time ISL starts we will be playing to full stadium like we do in Goa,” he said.