In the inaugural season of the Indian Super League (ISL) last year, FC Goa won plenty of hearts for their spirited comeback that saw them finish second at the end of the league stage only to bow out in the semifinals against eventual champions Atlético de Kolkata, and that too in a tiebreaker.
Zico, just like thousands of Goans, was reported to be shattered with the loss and has now taken it upon himself to turn the fortunes of the Goan franchise.
For a start, he has personally selected all the foreign players in the team. It helps that there are seven Brazilian players in the squad, many of them known to Zico, while the others, Spanish midfielder Jofre Mateu Gonzalez, a ISL champion with Atlético de Kolkata for example, have proven track record.
“The Brazilian players are not in the team only because they are Brazilians. They are all good players,” Zico said of the new signings.
Leading the FC Goa challenge will be former Brazil captain and 2002 FIFA World Cup winner Lúcio. The Brazilian won everything that is on offer in the world of football, including a treble while at Inter Milan, and is now looking forward to a new, exciting challenge in the ISL.
The marquee player for FC Goa will lend solidity at the back and is expected to partner French defender Gregory Arnolin, the lone surviving foreign player from last year’s squad. Zico has taken pains to explain the absence of players from last season was not entirely by choice and said players like Bruno Pinheiro, Zohib Islam Amiri and goalkeeper Jan Seda all had contracts with other clubs.
“There is very little we could do about players who were already contracted with other clubs. I wanted many of my foreign players to return but we could not get their services,” said Zico.
The departure of Andre dos Santos, who topped the player ratings in the ISL last year, has not attracted as much commentary as the departure of Pinheiro, who showed remarkable composure in defence and midfield, and Jan Seda, winner of the Golden Glove Award.
There is, however, a fair chance that the new signings will prove Zico right.
Elinton Andrade, recently won the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup with Portugal, and will be the first-choice goalkeeper while besides Lúcio, Brazilian players like Léo Moura, who captained Flamengo for a long time, young Jonatan Lucca, Victor Simoes and Reinaldo are all established names in the world of football.
From amongst the domestic players, all eyes will be on Romeo Fernandes, the first Indian to play for a top-flight Brazilian club. Indian national team players like Narayan Das and Pronay Halder along with local talent Mandar Rao Desai are expected to fill the five available slots for domestic players.
Last season, FC Goa were slow off the blocks as Zico took time to get to know the players, forcing him to improvise, which made achieving what FC Goa did all the more impressive.
This time around, FC Goa and Zico will want to hit the ground running. FC Goa kicks off their Hero ISL 2015 campaign with three home games on the trot – the first one against Delhi Dynamos FC on October 4.