It wasn’t only the grass, but the entire Fatorda stadium that wore a green look in the late nineties on Salgaocar match days – the stadium was under siege from Salgaocar’s loyal and boisterous fans. The Green Army invariably came out in large numbers to watch their star studded line up in action. The year 1998 was their crowning glory. Former India captain Bruno Coutinho, Roque Barreto, Franky Barreto, former India players Jules Alberto Dias, Shanmugam Venkatesh, Roberto Fernandes and Derrick Pereira- who was the first player to win the NFL both as a player and a coach- all played for the Salgaocar dream team. They won the Rovers Cup beating Air India 1-0 in the final and then played magnificently to win the NFL under coach Shabbir Ali. Packed with stars, the team had one particular gem the Salgaocar faithful were rooting for the most- a certain Bruno Coutinho. He was arguably one of India’s best strikers prompting former India coach Islam Akhmedov to once say-“ Give me ten Brunos and I will take India to the World Cup”. It’s a pity, then, India had only one Bruno – but that seemed enough in Salgaocar’s heyday.
But suddenly Salgaocar’s glory days ended, with the retirement of their star players. It seemed as though, when their players retired they took with them Salgaocar’s luck and their ability to play the beautiful game. Their fans watched in horror as they were relegated in the 2005-06 season, finishing in the second last position. Under coach Savio Medeira they got promoted back in 2007-08 season but then got relegated again in the following year. Medeira then left Indian shores and the task of bringing Salgaocar back to where they belonged was entrusted in the hands of Stanley Rosario who by then had the enviable experience of being the assistant coach of the national team.
Stanley brought them back to the I-League with a bang in the 2009-10 season taking them to the top position of the I-League 2, only to leave them at the start of the season. American Tim Hankinson took over the becoming the first American coach to ply his trade in India. But then a similar story followed. Salgaocar were back in the relegation zone and this prompted club president Shivanand Salgaocar to bring Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa for his second stint in Goa. The Moroccan performed admirably taking the team out of the relegation zone and bring them all the way up to sixth position. This season Salgaocar look threatening and are certainly are in the running for the title. Coach Karim still maintains his side is one under construction, but the way Salgaocar have performed this season has made everyone sit up and take notice. They lie in second position, just four points behind East Bengal and their hordes of faithful will be hoping that this will be the year Salgaocar exorcise the ghosts of the previous years and bring back the title.
The 2010/11 Squad
Karanjit Singh, formerly with JCT, has joined them this season and has been their first choice thus far. Arnab Das Sharma and young Macklas Moraes make up their reserves. Karanjit has done a splendid job despite his young years and can only get better with age. Although Salgaocar have conceded eight goals this season, six of them have been against Churchill and Chirag which the eventually won 4-3.
Undoubtedly, their star performer has been captain Luciano Sabrosa. He has been an inspirational leader often making goal line clearances, last minute tackles and also chipping in with vital goals. Jaspal Parmar at right back and Syed Farid at left back along with I. Meitei have been their defence for most of the matches this season. Luckily for Salgaocar the same defence has played every match together – a shot in the arm as far as the understanding between the back four goes. They can also call upon William Colaco, Rino Anto and Chinta Chandrashekar from the reserves. Former Mahindra defender Kalialudeen will be missing for most of the season after picking up an injury. The Salgaocar defence has certainly come a long way after the 6-1 drubbing they received at the hands of Mohun Bagan in the Federation Cup.
Salgaocar definitely have the youngest and most exciting midfield this season. Their half line, although inexperienced is bursting with energy thanks to some young talented players like Gilbert Oliveira, Francis Fernandes and Anthony Barbosa. Add to that, the former AIFF player of the Year Tomba Singh who has been a revelation for them this season. Their long serving player and former India juniors captain Rocus Lamare has also been in prime form. The biggest find of the season has been young U-20 player Gilbert Oliveira. After playing with Salgaocar juniors for a long time he has finally come into his own this season. He has been sizzling on the left flank with fiercesome pace to torment the rival defence. His 40 yard ripper after only 45 seconds against Chirag will definitely be a contender for goal of the season. The Salgaocar midfield has also scored four goals this season, two each from Anthony Barbosa and Gilbert Oliveira.
The other revelation has been Manipuri Tomba Singh. Credit here should go to coach Karim who brought him from Mohun Bagan last season and although he was yet to recover fully from his knee injury he persisted with him. That patience has finally paid of for the Moroccan. Tomba Singh is looking like the old Tomba who was once one of the best midfielders in the country. His passing and running off the ball has been immaculate. Almost every Salgaocar move starts from Tomba. At the centre of the park Tomba has been Salgaocars playmaker threading passes to Yakubu and Seouka at will. There’s plenty on the bench too for Karim to choose from should any of his players get injured. There’s Cajetan Fernandes, Anthony Barbosa, Thoi Singh who could fill in the blanks. With Beevan D’Mello and Milagres Gonsalves currently injured, Salgaocar will have more options once they return.
Old warhorse Yusif Yakubu is back in Goa for Salgaocar. The Japanese sensation Ryuji Seouka – their player of the season- has scored almost every game and has been the perfect foil for Yakubu. Seouka is possibly Karim’s best buy this season and Mohun Bagan have never looked the same side after he left. The Seouka-Yakubu combine has been the most lethal strike force this season accounting for ten of Salgaocars eighteen goals. Mohun Bagan’s loss has definitely been Salgaocar’s gain. In the reserves, they have another potential young star in Marcus Mascarenas. The young Sesa Football Academy protégé was Goa’s star at last years Santosh Trophy. A knee injury has prevented him from playing at his best this season. Another star on the bench is former Salgaocar striker Ekene Ekenwa who is on loan from East Bengal. He was Salgaocar’s highest scorer last season but has been unable to find a place in the starting eleven after the arrival of Yakubu and Ryuji.
The Path Ahead
Eighteen points from eight games and just four behind East Bengal is certainly impressive. While other Goan teams have been struggling; Salgaocar has shown the way, playing with punch and style. They suffered a blip in the middle when they lost back-to-back games to East Bengal away and to Pune FC at home but apart from that they have been sensational this season. For the neutrals they have been one of the best teams to watch, churning out two seven goal thrillers against Chirag United and Churchill Brothers. Karim has done a fantastic job and has made some smart decisions getting players such as Tomba, Seouka, Yakubu and Thoi Singh. The verdict is out, Salgaocar are serious contenders for the title if they continue to play the way they have so far. It’s time for the Green Army to start believing.