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Churchill Brothers’ objective is to help Goan players – coach Fernando Santiago Varela

Goalkeeper Shilton Paul has vowed to try and win the I-League title for a section of Mohun Bagan supporters…

Fernando Santiago Varela feels a new sense of challenge at Churchill Brothers ahead of the 2020-21 I-League season. After a stint with Gokulam Kerala before taking up Churchill’s challenge, Valera will be hopeful of better things to come. 

“It’s a new season for me. I’m very happy to be at this historic club and it’s a new challenge for me. I have to show that I can help Indian football to grow,” said the Argentine-born Spanish coach who previously led Gokulam Kerala to the 2017-18 Kerala Premier League and 2019 Durand Cup titles in his two years with the southern side.

“I think each year, I-League and (Indian) Super League is improving. Step by step, Indian football is growing and I think we are doing a good job at Churchill Brothers. We are ready to fight in every match to bring the trophy to Goa,” he added.

The Red Machines began their pre-season in Goa from the second week of November and are set to play their season opener on January 10th against Indian Arrows, a team Varela classified as one of the competitive sides he has faced.

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Having arrived Kolkata just a few days ago to undergo quarantine, he said, “I think it’s not the best option to be ready in one week. It could have been better to be in Kolkata earlier but the conditions are the same for all teams. We cannot make excuses. We have to be ready and show our mentality to play in these conditions.

“I remember when I was at Gokulam last year, one of our more competitive matches were against Indian Arrows. Now we will start against them and even after changing their players I’m sure that the players want to show that they are ready to play in the league or for the national team. We have to be focused to play with a good mentality.”

Luka Majcen (Slovenia), Clayvin Zuniga (Honduras), Hamza Kheir (Lebanon), Bazie Armand (Ivory Coast)

Full squad: 

Goalkeepers: Shilton Paul, Shibinraj Kunniyil, Nora Fernandes,

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Defenders: Suresh Meitei, Mamit Vanlalduatsanga, Hamza Kheir, Keenan Almeida, Samuel Shadap, Schubert Pereira, Kamran Farooque, Vikas Saini, Wendell Coelho, Jovel Martins,

Midfielders: Israil Gurung, Clencio Pinto, Sourav Das, Kingslee Fernandes, Joseph Clemente, Bryce Miranda, Lalengzama Vangchhia, Fredsan Marshall, Bazie Armand, Quan Gomes, Richard Costa, Clayvin Zuniga, 

Forwards: Luka Majcen, Vinil Poojary, Ginminthang Hangsing, Hafis Mohammedali, Lamgoulen Hangshing

Varela expressed his satisfaction with the 30-member squad at his disposal. He also turned down the option to loan players from the Indian Super League (ISL) in the January transfer window.

“I am very happy with the squad. We have a mix of experienced players like Shilton and young players who are ready to play their first I-League. We don’t think we will loan any player from the Indian Super League. The club’s objective is very clear – to help Goan players. So I am focusing on them and I will do everything to help them grow, like I showed last year (with Gokulam Kerala),” he said.

However, despite the absence of heavyweights Mohun Bagan and East Bengal who have joined the ISL from this season, the 47-year-old is not willing to take any team lightly.

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“There are other teams. The challenge is for all teams,” he opined. “You cannot say that just because East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are not there, we can get the title. We have to respect all the teams and we have to show first in our training that we are ready to get the title.”

Fernando Varela Gokulam Kerala Churchill Brothers

“You have to be competitive and maybe we can take points from what I did wrong last year and I have to improve myself to show the players that I am not like last year and can be better. If I don’t try to improve my version, I cannot help my team. To have a winning mentality, we have to always improve and I have to start (improving) with myself,” he mentioned.

With regard to the new format of the league wherein all teams will play a single leg against each other before being split into two groups to play for the championship and relegation respectively, he continued, “I told the players that an opportunity will come for everyone but they have to fight for their place and I will choose the players who are ready. The focus will only be to win the next game.”

Churchill Brothers goalkeeper Shilton Paul has already experienced being part of a bio secure bubble when he turned up on-loan for Bhawanipore in this year’s I-League qualifiers.

“It was quite good the way the IFA (Indian Football Association, West Bengal’s football governing body) organised the second division. Before I came here, I told the players how it was in the bio bubble and we are doing well. Hopefully, it will remain the same till the end of the season. It will be difficult because we are away from our families and without spectators at the stadium. We have to be very focused and motivated,” he explained.

Shilton Paul Mohun Bagan I-League 2017/2018

For one who has spent the last 14 years of his professional playing career contracted with Mohun Bagan, the 32-year-old hopes to win Churchill Brothers their third I-League title and one for the Mohun Bagan supporters who follow him.

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“I’m glad to join Churchill Brothers which is one of the biggest teams in India. I will use my 14-year experience (at Mohun Bagan). We had a good pre-season with practice sessions twice a day. We are ready for the matches. So hopefully we can win the I-League.

“There are some good teams like Round Glass Punjab, Real Kashmir and others also, but we are quite confident to win the league. I think it’s going to be a good leg.

“When I joined Churchill Brothers, a lot of Mohun Bagan supporters told me that they will support us (Churchill Brothers) because of me. So for sure, we will try to win this trophy for them,” he concluded.


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