Churchill Brothers’ chief coach Vincent Subramaniam has apparently had enough of patron Churchill Alemao’s constant meddling and interfering in the team selection. The former Singapore national team coach called it quits, soon after their 2-1 victory over Indian Arrows at Gurgaon and reportedly left for home, in Bangalore.
Confirming the news, Churchill Alemao said “The coach has resigned. He gave us a letter saying that he was not too happy with the performance of the team. We have accepted his resignation and started looking out for his replacement.” Subramaniam wasn’t available for a comment but speculation has been rife that the boss’ constant interference in team selection has led Subramaniam to this decision.
And not surprisingly, it is Churchill Brothers’ sharpshooter Odafa Onyeka Okolie, who is allegedly at the centre of this raging storm that threatens to derail Churchill’s decent season. According to newspaper reports Odafa was forcibly selected to start against Indian Arrows despite the coach wanting him to be on the bench. “Odafa was injured and out of training for a long time. The coach wanted to keep him on the bench against Indian Arrows but the management ordered him to start with Odafa. The coach did not like it,” said a senior player who did not wish to be named.
Churchill have had a decent season so far and are still very much in contention for the I-League crown. They are seven points behind leaders Salgaocar and still have 9 games to go, including against Salgaocar and East Bengal at home, where a win in those two games could propel Churchill to within touching distance of the title. This increases the belief that Subramaniam resigned or rather was forced to resign for reasons related to anything, but the performance of the team.
There’s enough fodder to speculate that Odafa is behind this shocking turn of events. Subramaniam, being a former coach of the Singapore Armed Forces, is known to have a strict training regime. Odafa hates practicing – a fact confirmed, on many occasions, by a few Churchill players. However, being the big match player that he is, and the goal scoring record that he has, other coaches probably let him have his way every time. Subramaniam being a strict disciplinarian, must have objected to this behaviour of Odafa’s, which must have rubbed the Nigerian goal machine on the wrong side. It is an open secret that former coaches like Karim Bencherifa and Nigerian Emeka Ezuego left the club because of differences with Odafa and due to the lack of support from the team management, while dealing with disciplinary issues, specially relating to Odafa. Churchill Alemao has supported Odafa through thick and thin, even at the cost of antagonizing several past coaches, understandably due to his prolific scoring record. Nonetheless, what the boss probably doesn’t realize is that football is a team game and that a disruptive force in the team dressing room can destroy the harmony of the team. No player is bigger than the club – a theory used so many times by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, leading to the departures of talismanic players like Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and others form Manchester United.
Odafa, no doubt has had a sensational season, scoring in all the games that he played before getting injured. This included two hattricks, to race away to 15 goals after only seven matches. However, it suddenly went horribly wrong for him and for Churchill Brothers. Ryuji Sueoka’s sliding tackle on him in the Round 8 match, injured his thigh, thus forcing him to miss almost six games. Nevertheless, during those six games, Churchill didn’t miss him, as many suggested, with new signings Kayne Vincent, Henry Karpeh and Amaury Nunes doing a fabulous job in his absence. Churchill scored 19 goals in the nine matches that they played without Odafa, forcing coach Subramaniam to believe that Odafa was not indispensable and that he could afford to rest him for a couple matches more, thereby allowing him to recover fully and not rushing him back to the field, as desired by the Churchill management. With the return of the national team players like Steven Dias and Mohammed Rafi, it suddenly seemed that Churchill had an abundance of striking ammunition at their disposal and Odafa wasn’t really being missed that much. Coach Subramaniam probably felt that Odafa was a disruption in the dressing room and with the team gelling quite well without him, he could afford to rest Odafa a bit longer. Unfortunately, It has been quite often observed that what the boss Churchill Alemao says, is final even if it means going against the ethics of play. Regular spectators at the Margaon stadium, including us, observed a number of times that, Churchill Alemao calling up the team manager Danzie Ferrao, during a match and ordering him to substitute a player without even consulting the coach. Such scant respect for people, who are more qualified in footballing matters than him is condemnable. Churchill Brothers have always had the reputation of being closest to Bengal clubs – in terms of pressure on the players and interference from the team management – and its no surprise that as many as five coaches have left them in as many years; nearly all on account of disciplinary issues and interference relating to bad boy Odafa.
There has been no confirmation on who would replace Vincent Subramaniam, but initial newspaper reports suggest that former coach, Zoran Djordjevic or assistant India coach Savio Medeira could be in the running for the post. Zoran, after leading Chrchill to their I-League triumph two years ago, left for Bangladesh to coach their national side, leading them to victory in the SAF games, after 11 years. But later differences with regards to the renewal of his contract led him to leave the country. Savio Medeira is also in the running for the job and Churchill Alemao has been a long time admirer of him. The former Salgaocar SC coach has the necessary experience, after learning a lot from Bob Houghton during his time with the India team, but it remains to be seen whether he is ready to take up the toughest job in Goan football – coaching Churchill Brothers Sports Club which has six (currently five, as one of them has passed away) soccer crazy and fanatic brothers running it.