It has been a very busy couple of months for Odisha FC, with the arrival of new head coach, Stuart Baxter and a number of talented young players. Can these changes propel the Bhubaneswar-based club into the play-offs in the seventh edition of the Indian Super League?
Previously known as Delhi Dynamos, the team shifted base from Delhi to Odisha last season, adopting the name, Odisha FC. They made the play-offs in 2015 and 2016, but have not gone beyond the regular season since then.
Well-travelled Briton, Baxter has been tasked with the responsibility of moving the team forward. Baxter was appointed as the new Odisha boss in June, replacing Spaniard, Josep Gombao, who turned down a contract extension due to personal reasons.
Gombao spent two seasons with the team, guiding them to eight and sixth positions in the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 campaigns respectively.
Joining Baxter in the dug-out next season will be Irishman, Gerry Peyton, who takes over as assistant coach. The 64-year-old Peyton arrives with bags of experience, having played for a host of top English clubs, and worked as a goalkeeping coach at English Premier League giants, Arsenal.
Baxter becomes the sixth head coach of Odisha FC, who had previously been managed by Brazilian World Cup winning star, Roberto Carlos and well-decorated Italian full back, Gianluca Zambrotta.
The 66-year-old Scot inherits an exciting young squad, and has set his sights on guiding them into the play-offs next season.
“If you are asking me as a professional, I want to take the team to the play-offs definitely because sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth is all the same really”, Baxter said. “We want to play the play-offs and after that, let’s see if we can win it”.
Odisha were not too far away from the play-off positions last season. In fact, they were well in the picture until a mini-collapse in the final few games of the campaign.
A run of four straight victories had pushed them into the play-off positions by mid-January, but their good work was undone by consecutive defeats to Bengaluru, Goa and eventual champions, ATK. Ultimately, they paid the price for a poor start and a poor finish.
Odisha were unlucky in many ways. Due to renovation works at the Kalinga Stadium, they had to play their first three “home” matches in Pune- they won just one of those three matches- while they also had to deal with injuries to key players.
When they eventually moved to the 15,000-capacity Kalinga Stadium, Odisha looked a totally different outfit, winning four of five matches. They will hope to keep that momentum going when the new season begins. Baxter also has the luxury of a bigger squad, bolstered by the addition of some great young players.
A busy window has seen the arrivals of players like Thoiba Singh, Isak Vanlalruatfela, Paul Ramfangzauva, Kamalpreet Singh, Baoringdao Bodo and Laishram Premjit Singh.
There are many reasons to be optimistic about OFC chances of making the play-offs in the upcoming Indian Super League season.
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Under previous management, OFC played an entertaining brand of attacking football, scoring 28 goals last season, but they had serious problems at the other end of the pitch, shipping in 31 goals. Over the last three seasons, they have conceded a total of 95 goals. That is simply not good enough.
When they reached the play-offs in 2015 and 2016, they conceded less than 20 goals in each of the two seasons.
Baxter has promised to maintain the team’s attacking style of play, but he must surely find a way to make them more compact at the back if they are to have any chance of making the play-offs.
Given the club’s activities during the off-season, Odisha FC fans have plenty to be excited about!