Churchill Brothers who briefly enjoyed the pole position in the I-league last season, finished as the second runners-up much to the disappointment of their fans as the club lost their way in the middle of the season. In 2012-13, the Goan outfit will be hoping to amend their last year’s performance under the watchful eyes of their technical director Subhash Bhowmick and their new head coach Mariano Dias.
The Salcette-based club is gearing up for the league in a big way and is almost settled with their squad for the upcoming season. They have had an eventful outing in the transfer market as they managed to sign two Lebanese internationals – Bilal Shiekh and Akram Moghrabi in the space of a fortnight. Their arrival has gone a long way in filling up the void which was created after Nigerian striker ND Opara and Aussie defender Antun Kovacic were released by the Goan giants after last season. Besides these two high-profile signings, the club has also managed to rope in a number of youngsters from the Tata Football Academy and Pailan Arrows.
Here at TheHardTackle, we present an in-depth analysis on how Churchill Brothers will shape up for the upcoming season.
Transfers for the season 2012-13
Goalkeepers: Felix D’souza, Melroy Fernandes, Bilal Khan, Sandip Nandy, Lalit Thapa
In Sandip Nandy, Churchill Brothers managed to rope in a more than capable replacement of their first choice keeper Arindam Bhattacharya, who decided to leave for the Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan after spending five years with The Red Machine. Nandy chose to part ways with the red and gold brigade with whom he started his career after he developed some difference with the club officials of East Bengal.
There was a lot of interest shown by the club in Nandy despite him being at the twilight of his career; the list included the newly formed cash enriched Dodsal FC, Prayag United and Pune FC but at the end it was his former mentor Subhash Bhowmick who managed to get his sign on the dotted line as the former India international joined Churchill Brothers. This is considered as a very smart buy by Bhowmick as Nandy brings in a wealth of experience to the side which will help in the development of their upcoming goalkeepers like the TFA product Bilal Khan who was signed in the same transfer window. Nandy is most likely to be the first choice keeper for Mariano Dias this season and will keep his younger counterparts – Felix and Thapa on their toes.
Verdict: Sandip might not have the age by his side but he will surely provide much more stability at the back which many feared would go missing after Arindam left for Mohun Bagan. They do say that goalkeepers are like wine as they get better with age; the chances of happening this are on the lower side but one should not be surprised if one gets to see the best of Nandy with the Goans in the upcoming years, as he not only plays the role of a goalkeeper but also of a mentor.
Defenders: Denzil Franco, Naveen Kumar, Raju Yumnam, Ravanan D, Lionel Rodrigues, Gurtej Singh, Nevil Miranda, Surjit Thingujam, Manpreet Singh, Sanjay Balmuehu, Elvis baretto, Bilal Najarin, Satish Singh
Defensive lapse at key moments was the chief reason behind Churchill’s slump from the league’s summit during 2011-12. A lot was expected from Gouramangi Singh but the Indian international failed to rise to the occasion on a number of occasions for the club and responsible for quite a few howlers. His departure along with the release of their Aussie centre-back Antun Kovacic, who formed a formidable pairing with Denzil Franco at the back, has left a gaping hole in the back line of Churchill Brothers. The addition of Bilal Shiekh, who comes from Lebanese premier league side Nejmeh SC, is a welcome signing for the club. Besides his defensive skills he is also known for his counter attacks. His tall frame will surely come in handy especially against the Indian strikers.
Meanwhile, Denzil Franco and former India U-23 player Ravanan had performed extremely well at the back last year which gives a lot of hope to the club’s management for the upcoming season. In fact, it was Denzil’s last season’s performance which earned him a national call up.
Gurtej Singh from Arrows, Manpreet Singh and Sanjay Balmuehu from TFA are few other notable signings at the back for The Red Machine. One might not see all these youngsters in the I-league this season as these young chaps will most likely feature for the club in the Goa Professional league.
Verdict: Bilal Shiekh will be the man to watch out for at the back for Churchill as the season kicks in. Franco and Ravanan have matured a lot in the past one year. Along with the experienced Lebanese defender these young Indians are set to form a potent force in the I-league for Churchill Brothers in the upcoming season.
Midfielders: Israil Gurung, Steven Dias, Jaison Vales, Joshua Rebello, Xavier Kumar, Tomba Singh, Alesh Sawant, Ashley Fernandes, Richard Costa, Amandeep Singh, Lenny Rodrigues, Hasten D’costa, Denzil Rogtao, Beto, Bikarmjit Singh
Other than Ralte, Churchill has managed to retain all their major midfielders from last season. Lenny performed exceptionally last season not only as a holding midfielder but also in supporting skipper Beto in the middle of the park. Beto remains the lynch-pin for the Goans as he moves into his second year for Churchill. Their injury prone captain scored a total of nine goals and picked up quite a few assists during his first season with the Goan outfit.
Presence of dead ball specialist Steven Dias who is slowly but surely regaining his form is bound to come in handy for Dias’s men. Meanwhile, Ralte’s absence in the midfield will be made up by Tomba Singh who the Goans have signed up from their rivals Salgaocar SC.
Verdict: Like defence, Churchill Brothers have signed up quite a few youngsters in the midfield as well but the core of their midfield remains pretty much the same from last season. The pairing of Lenny and Beto is still intact in the midfield which created a lot of difficulties to their opponents last year. They might not have a lot of big names in the middle barring their captain but they certainly have the fire-power to trouble the rest of the big boys of I-league.
Strikers: Bineesh Balan, Brian Rodrigues, Ajay Singh, Akram Moghrabi, Henry Antchouet
Opara and Henry combined to form the most feared striker duo in the I-league last season. The release of Opara therefore came as a major shock for the club loyalists. The management first had their eyes set on Ghanaian Bismakh Idan as the replacement for the Nigerian Opara. As the talks with Idan were going nowhere, the club decided to sign Bilal Shiekh’s team-mate at Nejmeh SC – Akram Moghrabi. The Lebanese forward can double up as an attacking midfielder which will give Mariano Dias lots of options up ahead of the field.
They have also signed in Ajay Singh from Pailan Arrows but it seems highly unlikely that it will make up for the loss of Rafi to Dodsal FC.
Verdict: Akram and Henry will be Churchill’s first choice striker for the upcoming season but the lack of quality replacements up front can harm their chances in the league as well as in the Federation Cup this time around.
1. I-league: Churchill Brothers came quite close to lifting the I-league title last year but it was their inconsistency especially at the back which led to their downfall. Like last season, this year again, all the three Goan clubs start off as title contenders. Churchill has released some big names in the transfer market but then they have signed equally big names as well. There is no denying that Churchill Brothers has always been a force to reckon with in Indian football. If Mariano Dias is able to add a little more consistency to their performance, the I-league crown will be well within their reach.
2. Federation Cup: This is one trophy that has always eluded The Red Machine. Last year they only reached the group stages of this competition but with the winners of Federation cup getting a direct entry into the 2013 AFC Cup, Churchill Brother will go all out into this competition this time around. Realistically, winning the competition is a possibility for Churchill Brothers, but they for that they will have to really dig deep if they want to accomplish this feat.
3. Goa Professional League: Churchill Brothers will try most of the newly signed youngsters and their players from the U-20 team in this competition. Last time they had won this competition in 2008 and only managed to finish third in the 2011 edition. With all major teams from Goa fielding a team in this competition, winning this tournament is a matter of pride for all the clubs involved. Salgaocar are the defending champions but the biggest competition Churchill will face here will come from Dempo SC. It is a really tough tournament to call but TheHardTackle predicts Churchill Brothers to reach the final of GPL in 2012 edition.