Odisha FC coach Josep Gombau has stated that he was very impressed with former Jamshedpur FC man Jerry Mawihmingthanga’s profile and knew right away that he would fit in his tactics, replacing Lallinzuala Chhangte. He also likened ISL players’ hard work to that of Hong Kong and Australian leagues.
Delhi Dynamos had ended on a sour note last season. Finishing third last on the points table with just four wins from 18 matches amidst a fledgeling fan base and a shaky future of the franchise, retaining all their star players was a tough job. And with Chhangte undergoing his second trial stint in Norway with Eliteserien club Viking FK, Dynamos were in for a steep task ahead of the 2019-20 season.
By the time Chhangte was left without a contract by the Norwegian club, Dynamos had already moved on to become Odisha FC and Chhennaiyin FC ended up getting the young winger. Odisha managed to hold on to Marcos Tebar and Francisco Dorronsoro amidst the big names and decided to get in Jerry to replace Chhangte.
And although it has been only one win for Odisha so far in the league, the importance of the Mizoram speedster couldn’t be stressed upon anymore. He has one goal and three assists in four matches and more importantly, his menacing runs on the right flanks have been a treat to watch for neutrals. And Gombau couldn’t be happier about getting his selection on point.
“Jerry has been a very good addition for us. When we saw his profile, we immediately realized that he would be a good replacement for Chhangte, even though he was on the left flank. He was intelligent as well as very fast and we knew right away he would fit rightly in. He is quite a promising player and has a great future in India,” said the Odisha FC head coach in an exclusive interview with SportsCafe.
Despite a change in franchise, players, and venue, Gompau has predominantly stuck to his attacking style of play, which didn’t click last season. The two wingers still play a quintessential role in his setup in unlocking opponents’ defence but Gompau stressed on how he always keeps a room open for adapting to the changing nature of a game.
“Wingers are very important in my system. We play with two open wingers forcing to penetrate opponents’ defence from the side. Every game is different and I cannot expect to use the wingers in a certain way only. We change a few things as per the situation’s demands, although the most important thing is we have our own way and we stick to it 70-80% of the game. And then we change as per opponents’ play,” Gombau explained.
The Indian Super League has come under heavy Spanish influence over the last few seasons, especially with the success of Sergio Lobera with FC Goa and Carles Cuadrat with Bengaluru FC. As many as five clubs have a Spanish coach at the helm now and the Indian players have been quite easily accommodative of their philosophy and tactics.
Gombau has credited this trend to new academies mushrooming in India and the players’ willingness to learn. “I think Indian football has progressed well and this will become even better in future because there are now a lot of academies in the country where youngsters are getting to learn under this philosophy. Playing ISL too has been immensely helpful for the Indian players, who have quality and eagerness to learn.”
Gombau has been managing for 16 years now since he started with the Barcelona youth team back in 2003. However, he never restricted himself to Spain and has moved to clubs like Hong Kong league’s Kitchee SC and Australian’s Adelaide United and Western Sydney. And the Spaniard has found the playing style in India, Hong Kong, and Australia to be quite similar.
“In Hong Kong, the league had a lot of similarities with Australia and India because these leagues don’t have promotion and relegation and have salary caps as well. I think one important aspect of their play is also that they want to run a lot and are hard-working players. They are physically stronger than the Indians though.
“However, I think every league is different and ISL has only been six years old and for these six years, the journey has been very good,” Gombau added.
ISL hasn’t started exactly how one would have thought. While defending champions Bengaluru FC have managed just one win in the first four matches, a star-studded Kerala Blasters have already lost two of their opening four fixtures. NorthEast United FC, despite losing Eelco Schattorie and Bartholomew Ogbeche, have done exceptionally well under Robert Jarni.
While FC Goa have kept their scoring form intact, strugglers ATK are sitting on top of the table with three wins in the first four fixtures, and Odisha are right in the middle following two losses in their first two matches. And when asked about who could lift the title this season, Gombau found it difficult to guess.
“It would be very early to say now for the league is very equal at the moment. We have dominated games for long before conceding in the last few minutes and losing. It has just been four games and what I have seen so far, has been good intensity. I can’t comment on that now,” concluded Gombau.