There are clubs that decide to sack their manager four matches into a season. Then there are clubs that have trusted their head coaches to captain the ship despite them having found no success in terms of winning trophies and getting into the top four. Odisha FC would fall into the second category.
Josep Gombau entered his second year in Indian football with a new entity named Odisha FC. It was an extension of his project at Delhi Dynamos, with the same look and feel but the base had changed. They now had to operate from the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and that was Gombau's biggest obstacle this season.
In addition to their limited budget and preference to integrate young players into the squad over the purchase of big names, Gombau had a specific style of play that required a good field of play. Even though the home ground itself turned out to be in a poor condition, Gombau's Odisha did well to make the most of what Kalinga offered them.
Despite the quality of the turf, Odisha still managed to keep things interesting on the field. After their final game of the league campaign, Gombau had said, "I am sure that if we had played more at this venue (Kalinga Stadium), we would have done better. We have won four and have lost only once. We would have had more points if we played our first three home games here and not in Pune. "
Odisha were forced to play their first three 'home' matches in Pune and they won just one game there. Would that have made a big difference? Considering the fact that Odisha were in the race for the playoffs until the final matchday, a few more points, in the end, could have made a big difference.
Gombau's team was inconsistent throughout a league campaign in which they registered just one win from their last five games during a push for the fourth playoff spot. Moreover, they were neither the best nor the worst team in terms of the total number of goals scored or conceded. They ended the season as a mid-table team.
Odisha and Delhi Dynamos were both powered well on the flanks. Lallianzuala Chhangte's void was well managed by his replacement Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Nandhakumar Sekar remained explosive on the other side. But the head coach needed a good striker to supplement the work done in the midfield by the likes of Xisco Hernandez and Marcos Tebar.
He found the right player in Aridane Santana who scored goals for fun in his debut ISL season until he was ruled out due to an injury. He was then replaced by Bengaluru FC's flop striker Manuel Onwu who scored an incredible seven goals in four matches to make the playoff race interesting. But the team, in the end, fell short.
Most of that is down to their frailties at the back. Scoring goals was not a problem for Odisha, conceding goals were. They ended up conceding 31 goals and a handful of penalties at the worst moments. The likes of Gaurav Bora had a disappointing debut campaign. In fact, the inexperience in defence meant they conceded 12 penalties this season, the most by any team.
However, after consecutive eighth-placed finishes in the last two seasons, the 2019-20 season is arguably Gombau's best output yet. Odisha have shown their brilliance at times and have been exposed at other times. They are very much a work in process the progress bar certainly doesn't seem to be stuck.