Goa returned from its Santosh Trophy outing with the most ignominious statistics imaginable. The State team played five games and lost them all; scoring four goals and conceding 14.
In Goa’s long footballing history, at one time rightly considered among the powerhouses of soccer in India, this is perhaps the worst performance at the prestigious Santosh Trophy that Goan football once prided on winning.
There was a time when Goan footballers and Goan football lovers awaited the Santosh Trophy and in the absence of live telecasts, would remain tuned in to the live commentary on radio following the progress of the game. What then has gone awry for Goa in the Santosh trophy, both on and off the field?
In a way, it perhaps has to do with Goa’s recent record in the championship. The last time Goa won the Santosh Trophy was in 2008-09. After that it was runners-up in 2016-17, the year it hosted the championship.
Goa has not brought home the Santosh Trophy for the last 14 years and came close to winning it just once, but lost on home soil. That itself tells the story of the depth that Goan football has plummeted.
That, however, is not the entire story and is not a sudden development. The story of Goa’s football journey to a nadir, from being a soccer powerhouse, came about over a period of time and here’s a brief outline of that.
Let’s not go so far back as to the time when Goa won the Santosh Trophy, Goan clubs won Durand Cup, the Rovers Cup and other national tournaments with ease. Let’s look at more recent history.
When it started, the National Football League had six Goan clubs playing, and the I-League that replaced it had Goan clubs dominating it right from the early years. From its inception in 2007-08 till 2012-13, the title was lifted by Goan clubs and no other State has been able to come close to this record of six consecutive titles by Goan clubs in the I-League.
That was domination. Yet, after that, the only Goan club to come close to winning the league was Churchill Brothers in the 2020-21 season when they finished as runners-up. In recent times, the only footballing trophy of note lifted by any Goan club has been the Durand Cup.
Strangely, if one looks at the dates, the debacle coincided with the announcement of football being accorded State Sport status in 2012. For reasons still unclear, instead of showing an improvement after that, Goa has seen a decline in its club and State football performances, that space being occupied by other teams and other States.
Looking at this in a different manner, and before pointing fingers at players, coaches and clubs, shouldn’t the first analysis be of the performance of the Goa Football Development Council? If the purpose of the council was to develop football – as the name suggests – then it appears to have failed in its objective.
If instead, the council was meant to merely demonstrate that the government is serious about developing the game, then it appears to have achieved its purpose.
The council that has completed over a decade of its existence should have produced footballers who would have taken Goan football to the next level. It should have done so by spotting talent and catching them young, training the youth and releasing them to the clubs.
The standing of Goan football at the current time shows that this has not happened, instead the results are just the opposite of what should have been intended.
If Goa aspires to regain its place as a dominant soccer State – as a team that draws fear in the opponents even before the players take to the field – then it has to improve its record at the club level and also at the Santosh trophy.
Despite the downward trend in football, Goa, because of its history is still considered a major force in the game, it has to only improve its on-field performance. That, any sportsperson will agree is easier said than done.
The task, therefore, is cut out for Goa’s football administrators, officials, coaches and upcoming players. They have to deliver and the time for this is now. On the tender shoulders of tomorrow’s footballers lies the heavy burden of taking Goan football to the heights it once enjoyed.
On the experienced shoulders of Goa’s coaches and administrators lies the equally heavy burden of training those youngsters. Will we soon see a revival of the beautiful game that Goans love so much?