An increase in the number of local players in the youth set-up, growth of the club beyond Bhuvaneshwar, a strong foundation of loyal young footballers and a women’s team that can challenge Gokulam Kerala in the Indian Women's’ League (IWL) – Odisha FC owner Rohan Sharma is clear about the club’s short and long-term goals.
In an Instagram live chat with India Super League (ISL), Rohan spoke about a plethora of things including the decision to shift base from Delhi to Odisha. He cited the lack of necessary infrastructure as one of the biggest reasons for the same.
“We were not interested in moving from Delhi unless there were the right reasons. The Chief Minister (Naveen Patnaik) and my dad had a meeting and they spoke about how they wanted to build on the sports culture in the state.
“They were ready to offer good centralised infrastructure. Much like how Kerala and the North-East states have the footballing culture, Odisha also beams with pride. Their views on improving the culture of the sports were in line with what we wanted.
“I was unhappy after the last year at Delhi. The players were not happy with and other logistics there. But things changed when we moved to Odisha. Off the field this year was a great success for Odisha. We sold a lot of tickets and the fan engagement was amazing,” he explained.
Sharma reiterated on the club’s vision of promoting and placing their faith in young talent. The club boasts of a young squad with no Indian player aged over 28 and most of them falling in the age bracket of 17-22. The club is looking to build on these values and integrate more local players into the squad.
“I’m happy with how the club has tried to promote young kids. We moved away from the likes of (Florent) Malouda, Marcelinho and decided to develop young talents. It is part of the club’s vision. Last year we did not have time to set up our academy at the grass-root level. But now, even though it will be hard due to COVID-19, we will move towards something like that. I would love to see some Odia kids come up through our academy,” Sharma said.
“I’m hoping this is the last time I will have to mass-purchase talents. We now have Thoiba Singh, Isak Vanlalruatfela and Paul Ramfangzauva, Gaurav Bora, Hendry Antonay and Saurabh Meher. I believe that if they stay for a long time, we can build something.
“The young Indian players tend to be loyal if you give them a chance. Vinit (Rai), Nandhakumar S and Shubham (Sarangi) all had offers elsewhere but they stayed. One of them even got an international offer and still decided to stay. They even fight for each other and have their backs through thick and thin. If you give these players the respect, chances and the time, they will pay you back.
“We may not have as many players in the national team as other teams do. We don’t spend as much as others. But we are twice as hungry. That is what I tell my players.
“Both Shubham (Sarangi) and Vinit (Rai) could take up leadership roles. Shubham has a really good leadership mentality for his age. Vinit will also make a good leader and I want to see him as the captain of the national team someday. Both these players are hungry, and I would go to war with them.”
Rohan is hopeful that the club will soon put together a women’s team that will compete in the IWL.
“I could not do (start a women’s team) it in Delhi because I did not have the facilities but here, we do. We have some good women footballers and I want to do something about that. I am sure that next year there will be a women’s team who can challenge the Gokulam Kerala women who are running a monopoly in the Indian Women’s League,” he concluded.