Apart from Chennai’s John Gregory, Josep Gombau has been the only coach who has managed to keep his job despite having a horrible last season. And, his job only gets trickier with the management shifting base and the team shipping in numerous new players who would now need to gel in again.
Diagne could very well be the difference-maker in Josep Gombau’s side this season given the sheer talent that the young midfielder possesses. The likes of Vinit Rai and Bikramjit Singh had done an untidy job in the deep midfield for the Spaniard last season and the consequence was a plethora of failed experiment as the season progressed.
The likes of Marcos Tebar and Rene Mihelic were seen forced to play out of position and the makeshift strategy hardly worked. Now that a specialist has come to the fore, Gombau would be hoping to get more control in his side. Having played in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League and La Liga 2, Diagne is acquainted with some of the most competitive leagues and would be bringing the same intensity to Indian Super League as well.
A defensive midfielder primarily, Diagne has been seen shifting to the centre half position and could also drift to the right-backs role, if and when asked to. Though goals won’t be something Diagne is bringing with him, his game reading skills could be a huge aspect.
Xisco would be far from a like for like replacement for Odisha’s departed star Lallinzuala Chhangte. While the young winger was their leading scorer last season with his unparalleled pace up and down the left flank, Xisco would come across as more of a technically superior player who has an eye for the perfect pass and a proclivity towards drifting inside as he pushes up.
However, as far as an upgrade is concerned, the experienced Spaniard is definitely one over Chhangte, who has been a raw product at best. The midfielder was an integral part of Carles Cuadrat’s Bengaluru FC side last season that won the title. With one goal and five assists in a side that was filled in creators, Xisco comes with a lot of promise and would be given a much bigger role in the attacking third this time.
Having a passing accuracy of 68.42%, most of which was attempted in the attacking third, Hernandez could be the main provider for compatriot Aridane.
Martín Pérez Guedes
Yet another midfielder in Odisha ranks but one with some subtle nuances in his passing, the South American midfielder brings fluidity to Odisha’s midfield more than anything. Gombau could inspire some really offensive passing football, which was evident last season, but one of the main reasons Delhi failed last season was lack of finesse. And the midfielder brings exactly that.
However, Guedes has never played out of Argentina prior to this and this could be a make or break season for the 28-year-old. At less than 6ft, Guedes thrives n smooth short passes and quick dribbling skills, and gelling into the new side could see him take time to adapt. The Spanish style of play would demand more passes from him to bring the ball out of danger as and when required and Gombau would hope he gets it as quickly as possible.
Asian football has seen more goals from set-pieces than most continents, which has established the fact that players with shorter height have been less preferred in this part of the world. Even India’s most successful player, Sunil Chhetri, had to hone his aerial skills to unparalleled level to thrive here and Guedes would be no exception.
Delhi Dynamos had conceded 27 goals last season, which was no way the worst defensive record but the team left the fans with a feeling that if not for the leaky defence, the side could have gone further. To further exacerbate things, Gombau had to leave one of his better defenders in Gianni Zuiverloon, who moved to Kerala Blasters.
However, Gombau still has domestic talents like Gaurav Bora and Rana Gharami to shore up his defence and importing someone like Carlos Delgado could go a long way in sorting things out. A product of Malaga CF, Delgado has played for Almeria and Valencia among others and is known for his robust defending.
At 6ft, he is well muscled to endure the rigours of the league and being a Spaniard, would also possess the technical attributes to provide long balls from the deep end of the field. With wingers like Xisco and Jerry Mawihmingthanga plying their trade on the flanks, his inputs could come in really handy on the counter.
Perhaps the most import piece of Odisha’s puzzle, Aridane Santana comes in to replace Andrija Kaludjerovic in the striker’s role. The Serbian forward was easily the worst player for Gombau last season and the manager wouldn’t blink twice before blaming most of their draws on the forward, who had a goal conversion rate of a meekly 5%.
Andrija had played 784 minutes last season and scoring just one goal in all of it. Santana, who is filling his shoes, would be coming with enormous expectations on his shoulders but also with much better firepower to back him up from the midfield. Having played for Real Zaragoza and Deportivo in Spain before, Santana could be trusted upfront although his record of 17 goals and five assists from 105 games don’t really inspire confidence.
Though Gombau won’t be relying solely on one man to score like last season, a well over 6ft 2 Santana could be helpful in more ways than one.
Getting another life in ISL despite a disastrous debut campaign, Gombau would have a lot to prove this time. And while the few tweaks in his squad are surely a welcome change, Odisha FC’s home comfort would still be questionable given the total lack of footfall in last season’s Super Cup. Hence, motivating his players could become doubly difficult for the Spaniard as the team builds a new base yet again. However, with the quality in the side, Gombau’s primary objective would be to finish in the top four.