Another year, another season, another new coach, a new set of players. Well what’s new one may ask. After all change and Churchill Brothers go hand-in-hand, but if there’s one man in Goa and probably India, who can make the big signings, it’s Churchill Alemao. The football-crazy politician from Goa has built a reputation over the years of bringing the best players in India and once again he has assembled an expensive outfit that will look to fire on all cylinders as he looks to capture the I-League crown. Last year was a huge disappointment for Churchill Brothers as the team had only the IFA Shield to show. But smart buys in the off-season and the offloading of some deadwood in the Churchill ranks has made their team formidable once again and has reignited the expectations of their fans this season.
They have a new coach at the helm of affairs – Manuel Gomes known as “Professor Necca” is the latest tactician to try and satisfy Churchill Alemao’s huge ambitions. The wily Portuguese has a wealth of coaching experience behind him having coached the likes of Luis Figo, Manuel Rui Costa and also was a part of the coaching staff for Portugal at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan/ South Korea. Churchill have set up an enormous squad this season. They have two squads – one consisting of junior players that will play in the Goa League and other tournaments, coached by Mariano Dias, former youth development coach at Salgaocar, while the senior team will participate in the I-League and the Federation Cup and will be coached by Manuel Gomes. TheHardTackle a preview of their senior squad for the upcoming season.
Summer Transfer Activities
|Antun Kovacic||Defender||Richmond Eagles (Australia)|
|Beto||Attacking Midfielder||Dempo Sports Club|
|Henri Antchouet||Striker||Moreirense SC (Portugal)|
|Jerry Zirsanga||Midfielder||Prayag United|
|Melwyn Rodrigues||Defender||Prayag United|
|Basileo Rego||Midfielder||Vasco S.C|
|Lalrindika Ralte||Midfielder||Indian Arrows|
|Warun Deep Singh||Defender||Sporting Clube de Goa|
|Kayne Vincent||Striker||Prayag United|
|Odafa Okolie||Striker||Mohun Bagan|
|Khan Thang Paite||Midfielder||East Bengal|
|Charan Rai||Midfielder||East Bengal|
|Robert Lalthalma||Defender||East Bengal|
|Vinay Kumar||Goalkeeper||Salgaocar S.C|
|Rowilson Rodrigues||Defender||Dempo Sports Club|
Goalkeepers: Arindam Bhattacharya, Lalit Thapa.
Once again for the fourth successive season Arindam Bhattacharya will guard the Churchill citadel with Lalit Thapa being his deputy. Arindam has over the years built a reputation of having a safe pair of hands and with his strong performances under the bar has earned a call up to the senior national camp. He is tall and has a good reach and is good at collection of aerial balls. With the likes of Karanjit Singh and Laxmikant Kattimani coming up nicely through the India ranks, Arindam knows that he has to put in consistent performances in order to get past Subrata Paul as India’s No.1 keeper.
A good showing in this years League will go a long way to fulfilling that dream. Lalit Thapa too can be a safe bet under the bar and kept for Churchill Brothers for most of last season owing to Arindam’s injury. Churchill Brothers will also look to add a third keeper to their roster before the Federation Cup kicks off. In all likelihood it will be one of their junior keepers who will ply his trade in the Goa Professional League.
THT Verdict: Arindam has added consistency in his game over the last two years and has slowly developed into one of the top keepers in the country. Lalit Thapa too is a safe bet. All in all a good set of shot stoppers for Churchill.
Defenders: Antun Kovacic, Denzil Franco, Dharmaraj Ravanan, Gourmangi Singh, Felipe Gomes, Rauf Khan, Raju Yumnan, Dinesh Thounajam, Melwyn Rodrigues
Two of Churchill’s most reliable defenders have left for greener pastures this season. Rowilson Rodrigues and Robert Lalthalma have both left the club and Churchill will have to start from scratch in defense. However they have bought big at the back – literally. In Antun Kovacic, they have one of the tallest players in the League, who stands at a towering 6 feet 4 inches. The Australian defender who was signed from Richmond Eagles in the A-League has a wealth of experience behind him having played mostly for A-League clubs and once had the privilege of playing in the highly competitive Korean League.
He will partner the ever reliable Gourmangi Singh in the heart of defense and will be supported by Denzil Franco and Ravanan at right and left back respectively. Rauf Khan and Melwyn Rodrigues are other options for Churchill on the flanks, while Raju Yumnan and Felipe Gomes can fill in at stopper back in case of injuries or suspensions.
THT Verdict: On paper their first-choice defense looks really good, however injuries or suspensions to their first team players could hit them hard as the bench strength is not in the same mould. However they still have time to set things right and will look to add solidity to their defense.
Midfielders: Israil Gurung, Zakeer Mundampara, Chitra Sen, Steven Dias, Lenny Rodrigues, Melroy Fernandes. Beto, Jerry Zirsanga, Sarang Singh, Jagpreet Singh, Basileo Rego, Lalrindika Ralte.
Churchill have signed some exciting players in midfield this season. No doubt the prized catch has been Beto from Dempo Sports Club. The return of one of India’s brightest prospects Lalrindika Ralte, after a loan spell with Indian Arrows, has also given the Churchill midfield some thrust and creativity. Steven Dias on the right and Lalrindika on the left will make a good pairing, while Beto and Zakeer Mundampara, who had a brilliant debut season for Churchill Brothers last year, will be automatic starters at the centre of the park.
Young Lenny Rodrigues is improving with every game and looks a player for the future along with the hardworking and uncompromising Basileo Rego and Israil Gurung, who is into his second season with Churchill. With new signings, Jerry Zirsanga, Sarang Singh and Jagpreet Singh, Churchill boast of a more than adequate bench strength that will come good in the event of injuries to their key players.
THT Verdict: A very strong midfield if one considers the likes of Steven Dias, Beto, Zakeer and Lalrindika. Steven and Lalrindika have started most of the matches for the Indian team and have developed a good understanding with each other. Zakeer and Beto, in the two games that they have played so far this season, look to be developing a lethal combination.
Strikers: Mohammed Rafi, Henri Antchouet, N.D. Opara, Durga Boro, Jaison Vales, Xavier Vijaykumar, Jai Kumar, S. Parthiban.
When Odafa Okolie left Churchill Brothers for The Mariners, Churchill Alemao promised that he would get a player better than Odafa for half the price. Henri Antchouet – Odafa’s replacement has definitely been signed for a lower price than Odafa but it remains to be seen whether he outshines his predecessor. What gives him a clear edge over Odafa is his playing experience. Henri has played in as many as six countries including the likes of Saudi Arabia, Spain, Portugal and Greece and once scored the winner for his team Larissa FC against Champions League side Panathinaikos in the Greek League.
The restrictions on the use of foreigners will see either Mohammad Rafi or Xavier Vijaykumar partner Henri in attack. Vijaykumar joined Churchill Brothers after a brilliant season with HAL, where his two goals against Dempo in the final game of the season at Fatorda helped the Bangalore side escape relegation. Mohammad Rafi will look to make amends after a disastrous last season, where he was plagued with injury. Opara is unlikely to get a place in the starting line up but will be used as a substitute and an impact player. Young Jaison Vales who scored a wonder goal last season and Durga Boro will look to make the most of the opportunities that come their way.
THT Verdict: For the first time in six years Churchill are without their goal machine Odafa. It remains to be seen how they manage without him. The replacements signed look good on paper, however Indian football is a different ball game altogether and success abroad doesn’t guarantee you success in India. It remains to be seen how the Churchill strikers fire.
Five Key Targets this season:
I-League: After two years without the title, Churchill Alemao will be desperate to lay his hands on the title for the second time. He has the team to do it. Will they fire?
Federation Cup: This is the only prize in Indian football that is missing from the Churchill trophy cabinet. Manuel Gomes knows this is the trophy Churchill desperately wants to win. A win in this tournament could also mean a gateway to the AFC Cup, something a coach of the caliber of Manuel Gomes will definitely look forward to.
Goa League: It was a disappointing outing in the Goa League last year for Churchill Brothers. They were leading the table for most of the season but fell by the wayside towards the end. They will hope to make amends this time round.
Durand Cup/IFA Shield: After a disappointing semi-final loss last season, Churchill will look to win the Durand Cup for the third time in four seasons. The only Goan team to win the IFA Shield and the defending champions will look to capture the most prestigious shield in Kolkata for the third successive time time.
Consistency: If there’s one thing that Churchill Brothers haven’t learnt it’s consistency. They will be brilliant on one day and mediocre the following day. They need to get in more consistency into their game if they want to be known as a great team in India.
With Churchill Brothers one can never really know what to expect. They will slay a giant in the morning and fall prey to a minnow in the evening. A couple of losses and the coach could be gone. Misfire in a couple of games and probably the strikers would be benched. But one thing is certain in Churchill Brothers Sports Club p Passion for the game and the desire to win at all costs. Churchill Alemao has promised a lot this season. He has an array of stars at his disposal. Will this season turn out to be another damp squib? Or will it finally be the season when Churchill Brothers imbibe the ten letter word into their game – consistency.