The GMS Group-owned side finished eighth last season, winning just four games, two of which arrived in the last three games. They lost eight of their 18 games in the league stage, only better than bottom-placed Chennaiyin FC.
A disappointing season usually triggers big changes on the roster and the coaching staff. But Odisha decided to keep their faith in Spanish coach Josep Gombau. The former Barcelona youth team coach is hence under immense pressure as he looks to justify the management's faith in him.
It does not help the 43-year-old that the franchisee had to shift states and now his players have to adjust to new playing conditions. The levels of expectations from the home crowd will be high too and Odisha will find the need to make a statement and draw the crowd with some big wins in the first few games.
This is not something that will go particularly well with Gombau who is a very process-oriented coach. Gombau has reiterated in his press conferences that he is always after the process. Odisha and the fans must hence be patient with the Spaniard boss, especially given the squad has experienced quite a makeover.
It is surprising that a club that always changed their manager before the start of the season stuck with the Spaniard after their worst-ever campaign.
Under Gombau, Delhi had registered a win-percentage of 22.22 per cent. Roberto Carlos and Gianluca Zambrotta lasted at the club for just one year each, despite enjoying superior numbers – 43.75 per cent and 37.50 per cent.
However, there is a lot of hope for Odisha, following some smart business in the transfer market. To start with, the average age of arrivals is just 24.7 years, significantly less than the average age of the departures (27.0 years). This means that the coach will deal with a younger squad that is more likely to be moulded according to his philosophy.
Former Bengaluru FC attacking midfielder and ISL winner Xisco Hernandez was one of their top signings ahead of the new season. The 30-year-old has settled in the league and is highly likely to play a key role in their campaign.
It will also be interesting to see what defensive midfielder Diawandou Diagne has in store this season. The 25-year-old is a Senegal international and has featured in Belgium’s first division frequently while at KAS Eupen.
Argentine midfielder Martin Perez Guedes and Spanish centre-back Carlos Delgado are other overseas players on Odisha’s roster that could grab the spotlight this season. The transfer of talented Indian youngsters Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Gaurav Bora also promises something fruitful.
Marti Crespi and Lallianzuala Chhangte are the two departed players that Odisha will miss most, but overall, they have done a good job with the transfers.
Gombau now has quality players and a good enough bench to deliver a solid season. It is time for Odisha to step up and deliver because there is no more time for excuses after two mediocre seasons.