Ten years, one coach, the same assistant coach and support staff, the same core group of players and the result- four National League titles, one Federation Cup, two Super Cups, a semi final appearance in the AFC Cup in 2008 and a pre quarterfinal berth in 2009. That has been Dempo’s recipe to glory – “Unity” and “Continuity”. Coach Armando Agnelo Colaco has over the years built a team that has stayed together through the highs and the lows, been through the valley of defeat and the pinnacle of success, but never once has given up and always fought till the end.
That ‘s the precise reason why Dempo has achieved such resounding success after being relegated in 2000. To stand on the podium after nearly getting disbanded is even more commendable. A Fergusonesque reign at the club has meant that Armando was able to patiently build his squad, create a family like atmosphere at the club, understand the mentality and psyche of his players, know their strengths and weaknesses, build the camaraderie between the players and guide the promising juniors to become mature players, who would eventually dominate Indian football arena for years to come at the turn of the new millennium.
Players like Samir Naik, Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence, Anthony Pereira and Valeriano Rebello have been with Dempo since their academy days and have been the backbone of Dempo’s success over the years. Spurning big money moves to Calcutta, many of Dempo’s players have preferred to stay with the big Dempo family, simply because they felt at home and felt wanted. Even foreigners, like Roberto Silva, have flourished under the guidance of Colaco after having a flop show at the big Kolkata clubs – a clear testament to the man management skills of Armando.
Credit also must be given to Chairman Shrinivas Dempo for giving Armando a free hand and most importantly the finances, that has turned Dempo from a side battling relegation, and once succumbing to it, into a club that has traversed the path that no other South East Asian club has dared to walk – the semi final of the prestigious AFC Cup. And as Armando once again prepares his team for yet another long hard season, he knows that this year could be Dempo’s moment of glory, the crowning jewel.
Dempo have a luxury of shot stoppers to choose from; ex Sporting custodian Luis Barreto, India U-23 keeper Laxmikant Kattimani and the young and promising Tyson Caiado. Add to that India’s reserve goalkeeper and ex Mahindra player Subhashish Roy Choudhary, who is set to join them in January – which means Armando will have a tough choice to make on whom to leave out once Subhashish joins them. It would also mean that there is a healthy competition among the goalkeepers and none of them can afford to take their places for granted.
In the four matches that Dempo have played so far the coach has preferred to go with Laxmikant Kattimani. One must admit that he hasn’t looked all that convincing under the bar. Although he has a penalty save to his credit- off Jose Barreto against Mohun bagan at Salt Lake – he has looked shaky many times and was responsible for the Tolgay goal that gave East Bengal a win at Goa. His movement on the goal line while anticipating crosses has also looked faulty and he hasn’t had the best of communications with his defenders. Kattimani has to improve his game by several notches as there is a certain Luis Barrreto and Tyson Caiado breathing down his neck.
Another area Dempo needs to toughen up and needs cover. As houses are built on solid foundations likewise a good football team is built on a sound defence, something that Dempo is sorely lacking at the moment. The absence of their defensive linchpins – Mahesh Gawli and Samir Naik – is hurting them badly. Adding to their cup of defensive woes are the injuries to captain and right back Valeriano Rebello and stopper back Cresson Antao – both long term absentees.
This has meant that Armando has been forced to field juniors like Jessel Carneiro on the bench along with the only other fit defender Covan Lawrence. Debabrata Roy and Marcus Peixoto have looked okay on the flanks but the overlapping hasn’t been up to the mark. Fielding left footed Debabrata Roy at right back has meant that there hasn’t been a steady supply of accurate crosses on the overlap from the right – something Valeriano used to perform exceptionally well, leaving strikers Ranti and Cliffton with very little to choose from.
Their two centre backs John Dias and Domnic Noronha also have show plenty of chinks in their armour leaving the opposition with plenty to exploit. Both have looked a touch slow off the blocks thus rendering them vulnerable to raw pace. They will have to make do with this defence for at least another month till their national team players return, the coach will hope that by that time the injured players will also be fit again.
Three of India’s midfielders are from Dempo – testament to the fact hat Dempo has arguably the best midfield in the country and probably the greatest of all time. The pacy Anthony has been a revelation and one of the most improved players in recent times. Having started his career as a striker, it was Armando who turned him into a right-sided midfielder and ever since it has been no looking back for him. Anthony’s mazy runs, bundles of energy and pin point crossing has been the hallmark of his play. Anthony on the right and Clifford Miranda on the left is every defenders nightmare.
And if that’s not enough you got Climax, and Ogba Kalu completing Dempo’s midfield quartet. But three of these players missing from Dempo’s present midfield mean that for the moment, it’s the young and talented Godwin Franco, the versatile Peter Carvalho, Nicolau Borges and sometimes Beto holding fort for the blues. It has been a relatively good performance from Dempo’s second string midfield. They have performed fairly well. Godwin has impressed whenever given a chance and Armando’s Man Friday – Peter Carvalho, playing on the right has delivered some decent crosses.
Nicolau too has been okay while Kalu Ogba has held fort and broken up opposition play satisfactorily well. However any team which has the players of the caliber of Climax, Clifford and Anthony missing at one time will definitely feel the pinch. Yes, Dempo are definitely missing their midfield maestro’s at the moment. The Dempo faithful will be eagerly waiting for their quick return.
A Ranti-Beto combination is every spectators dream. And the Fatorda crowd has been treated to some Brazilian-Nigerian magic over the years. Joining them is India U-23 captain and last year’s winner of The Young Player of the Year Award – Joaquim Abranches. That’s the culmination of Dempo’s dream team. The best talent is reserved at the firing end. A mesmerizing Brazilian, a sublime Nigerian and a quick learning and vastly improved Goan, shoulder the burden of banging in goals for the defending champions.
When on song there is no better attacking force than Dempo in India, arguably Mohun Bagan’s Barreto-Chidi-Muritala combo is equally potent. They hit a phenomenal 54 goals in last years I-League campaign in 26 matches, averaging 2.07 goals a game. The great thing about Dempo is that they get goals from midfielders too and do not rely entirely on Ranti and Beto. Last year when Sunil Chhetri left, a young Joaquim Abranches stood up and played admirably, creating chances and scoring vital goals. This year too in the absence of senior players, young Clifton Gonsalves has stepped up, scoring two goals already.
Their biggest weakness thus far has been the absence of their national team players. They don’t look the same side without stalwarts like Mahesh, Climax, Clifford, Anthony and Samir. Their defense looks shaky, goalkeepers look error prone and midfield lacks creativity. However this could all change in January when the senior players return.
At the moment the job for Armando would be to accumulate as many points as possible, till the senior players return and then start afresh from there. Already they are 7 points behind leaders East Bengal, so more slip ups would mean a mountain to climb for them. Another major worry for Armando would be the fitness of his India players and whether they would be able to sustain the level of performance, especially after a grueling overseas tour cum preparatory camp.
With their full strength squad Dempo will be virtually unbeatable. They have talent at every position – with two, sometimes three players fighting for each position in the starting eleven. This augurs well for Armando as he will have a big enough squad to rotate once his Asian campaign kick starts in February.
Another distinguishing feature of Dempo over the years has been their continuity. The players have played together for many years and they know each others game very well.
The Path Ahead
They have won every competition in India and its no surprise that Amando and Chairman Shrinivas Dempo has set his sights on Asia. Looking at Dempo’s huge squad one gets the impression that Armando wants a taste of Asian glory. Having won the I-League last year, Dempo are seeded in the play-off (west region) of the prestigious AFC Champions League, Asia’s premier club competition. Dempo Sports Club would be the first ever Indian club to play in the Champions league if they manage to win that play off scheduled on 19th February. Failure to do so would still mean they would play in the AFC Cup.
This could be the year where Dempo take the next step, move into the next era – from greatness to immortality. A victory in the play-off match would definitely mean Dempo would be right up there among the greatest ever Indian club teams. They had their I-League glory and now they would be itching to get noticed in Asia.
The time starts now for Armando and his Blue Brigade. The quest for immortality is a game away. A legion of fans will be rooting for them in the I-League and in the AFC Champions League. In Armando, Dempo faithful trust. Glory in Asia beckons the Blue Brigade!
~ Jonathan Desousa