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Football Reporting


ISL 2020-21: Time for Odisha’s youngsters to pull up their socks

The likes of Shubham Sarangi, Gaurav Bora, Nandhakumar Sekar need to live up to the expectations…

Odisha FC is one of the few Indian Super League (ISL) clubs who have chosen to stick to their philosophy of promoting young Indian talent through thick and thin. Over the years, they have continued to back talented youngsters such as Shubham Sarangi, Nandhakumar Sekar, Vinit Rai, and others to the hilt with the trust that they will bloom sooner than later.

Sarangi even went to Qatar‘s famed Aspire Academy to hone his skills, making the most of a strategic partnership with the ISL outfit.  Since making his debut with Delhi Dynamos in 2018-19 he has played 30 matches clocking over 2100 minutes. It is his second season playing as a right-back and the youngster has often looked gullible in defence.  

Against Jamshedpur, he set Nerjius Valskis up on a platter with his feeble defensive header and the striker made no mistake to punish the blunder. He was not aware that the Lithuanian was lurking around and a momentary slip in concentration was enough to get exploited. 

In the next match against Mumbai City, his performance was at best mediocre. Apart from giving away a penalty, he had a torrid time while containing Bipin Singh and during the second goal, he was seen panting back to his position as he had galloped forward to press higher up the pitch. Once Mumbai broke through that resistance, Singh had all the time in the world to float in a cross inside the box for Rowllin Borges to head home. 

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His teammate Nandhakumar Sekar is another player on whom the Odisha management has put a lot of trust. It is the fourth season for the 24-year old in the ISL but his performances have taken a consistent plunge instead of showing an improvement. In his first season in ISL, he had five goal involvements (one goal and four assists), which decreased to four (two goals and two assists) in the second and further dropped to two (two assists) in the third. 

However, his minutes on the pitch have increased exponentially with each passing season. Both the previous coaches, Miguel Portugal and Josep Gombau, handed him ample opportunities to prove himself but Kumar has failed to live up to expectations. The winger needs to work on his final product. His crosses are often wayward and his finishing has been extremely poor, especially when he tries his luck from range. 

Even Gaurav Bora, who was signed from Chennai City FC after a triumphant I-League season, has been struggling to find his feet in ISL. He had close to 800 minutes last season and in this campaign, it was expected of him to come of age. But the defender has not been able to produce the goods so far. Against Owen Coyle’s team, he handed the ball inside the box which led to the opener and against Mumbai he was seen giving away possession cheaply in midfield.  

In this season, Odisha have roped in a few other youngsters as well in Premjit Singh, Hendry Antonay, Saurabh Meher, Thoiba Singh, and have even promoted two exciting talents in Akshunna Tyagi and Rishabh Dobriyal. There are also the likes of Thoiba Singh and Baoringdao Bodo (who has rarely featured in the last few seasons for Kerala Blasters) who are yet to make a mark for Odisha. 

But they are inexperienced and to expect them to fire right from their first season in new colours is likely to end in disappointment. Ideally, Sarangi and Sekar should have guided these newcomers into their fresh stomping ground. But for that, they themselves must notch up their level and lead by example. 

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In Stuart Baxter, they have an experienced mentor and it is up to them to learn as much as they can. Showing glimpses of brilliance would not do anymore as they must show more consistency to pull up their side from a difficult phase. The club continues to rally behind them and now the time has come to repay the trust with actions on the pitch. 

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