Bhubaneswar, Nov 22: Odisha FC is all set to take on Hyderabad FC in its campaign opener in the seventh edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) which is being played in a bio-secure environment following all the restrictions for Covid-19 pandemic in Goa. The players and support staff of the club had started landing for the tournament on 5th of October with the Indian players and staff reaching first and then joined by the foreigners.
Ahead of the first game, OFC Head Coach Stuart Baxter has hailed the spirit of the team and said that the players and officials have worked extremely hard to put things in place ahead of their first game tomorrow.
“Players have faced the challenge really well. They have worked hard. The coaching staff and the technical staff have done a good job and we have tried to put in place all the things you want to be in place. So, when the kick-off comes, we will be as ready as we can be,” the OFC gaffer said while addressing the media during his first-ever pre-match press conference in India.
“We all say that winning start is important, we all say that. But then win, lose or a draw we are making a new case for the next game. So, we want points on the board of course. I am really looking for performance. I think the performance is what we should be looking at now and let that lead us to good results.”
Speaking on the absence of some of the players in the first game, the Odisha boss confirmed the unavailability of Jacob Tratt and Jerry Mawihmingthanga. “We have a lack of availability through quarantine. Coming straight out of quarantine will be an issue. So we do have challenges on that front. But again, I am probably echoing what most coaches are saying. So, it’s not a case of feeling sorry for yourself it’s a case of finding a solution.”
The Bhubaneswar-based side had managed to register two wins in two games against HFC in their debut season last time. Speaking about Odisha’s performance against Hyderabad last season and the style of play, the 67-year-old commented, “History doesn’t really help anybody. The Titanic (ship) sank and Liverpool won the league last season but none of it helps this year. We have got two games against them. They got new players, we have got new players. There are a lot of things changed, so we’ll approach this game based on not what could have been or what maybe.”
“If you look at last year’s performance, the coach (Josep Gombau) was here for two years and they set on a way to play. I watched a lot of games before I came. A certain possession-based football was developing, conceding more goals than the coach wanted and probably didn’t score as many on the transition. Set play also needs some polishing.”
“We are hoping to build on what was done last year. I would like us to be efficient as well as attractive. That’s not an easy thing to do. So that will be our challenge and we will try and do our best,” he further added.
Captain Steven Taylor also attended the press meet along with the Head Coach. The experienced defender also shared his thoughts on the upcoming match and his responsibility in the team as the skipper.
“Big responsibilities; I think setting standards, the values, making sure that I take the pressure off my teammates and lead by example. When I do that hopefully the teammates will follow.”
“I think obviously, working under a lot of managers, you pick out the best bits and you try to bring that to the team as well. Obviously, under Stuart, with the experience that he has got, it’s going to develop my game and improve me as a player. It’s fantastic, especially for the young Indian boys and hopefully, it will benefit them,” explained Taylor.
When asked about many players from the A-League playing in the ISL and the battle that he is looking forward to, the Englishman said, “[I am looking forward to playing against] my ex-teammates David Williams, Roy Krishna (both ATK Mohun Bagan) and Gary Hooper (Kerala Blasters). If you look at what Roy and Williams have done out here last year, they were fantastic with a top-quality performance that got them the success.”
Odisha FC has brought in six foreigners for this ISL season and Coach thinks that their addition will be hugely beneficial for the overall growth of Indian football. “Relying on players is a very risky business. You have to be able to play without anybody if you can. Of course, our foreign players should be influential. One of the biggest influences I want them to have is to affect the Indian lads positively, encourage and help them to develop. But then again, players that people expect to score goals usually the goalscorers grab the headline. We are looking for them to be a threat but we are certainly looking at everybody to help in the development of the Indian lads,” the former South Africa Head Coach stated.
“All of the Indian players are really quite young now. So all of the young lads have really got to have a very very steep learning curve. They can learn from people like Steven, they can learn from the actual games and they can learn from the information from the coaching staff. But I think their challenge is despite not having played 10 seasons act as if they are experienced, playing in an experienced way.”
Answering a question on Odia youngster Shubham Sarangi, he responded, “He (Shubham) is a good player at the moment and I expect him to develop into a very good player. I think if he develops in a positive way. He has problems in his games but if he deals with them in a positive way we have a very good player at our hands.”