Odisha FC trainer Josep Gombau is an affable man. In the heat of battle, he stays calm on the touchline, encouraging his players, sharing a smile with the fourth as well as the opposition players that might wind up near him when yanking a stray ball.
At the end of his team’s 3-0 defeat to ISL champions Bengaluru FC, Gombau, a former Barcelona youth trainer, got his team together once they confessed the away fans. Odisha dominated the opening 20 minutes, despite taking the field with two of the key Indian midfielders in Vinit Rai and Nandha Kumar. A few lapses in marking led to two goals inside three minutes, but Gombau would tell his young team that although the score could see 3-0, he saw the game for again.
As he walked into the team bus, the Bengaluru fans cheered and clapped for him, and then began an ironical chant for a professional wrestler he looks.
This balanced behavior, and his reputation for moulding young players make Gombau among those standout coaches over the past two ISL seasons. And Odisha, a group that went by the name of Delhi Dynamos until last season, have become among the dark horses of the league — the Bengaluru defeat snapped a four-match winning series.
With many Indian players portion of the Under-23 team which was busy playing with the SAFF Championship in Dhaka, he got just a fortnight with the complete Delhi Dynamos team, before being pushed into a schedule which saw them play their first six games inside three weeks.
“We tend to get a long off-season in India, and also to have the ability to improve in your technical skill during that time was very favorable,” says 19-year-old right-back Sarangi, who’s been among the greatest players for Gombau this year.
“We play [a minimum of] five Under-23 Indian players in our lineup, and if folks say,’Wow, Shubham is performing well, or Jerry is so great,’ I feel proud,” Gombau stated.
He also clarified the training process, he put his players under while at Amposta.
“While the other coaches and players were on vacation, we were in my own village, [waking up at] 7:30 in the morning, training them in skills to attempt to narrow this major gap that they have. They’re growing now.”
Gombau was 16, in one of his first seasons as goalkeeper in Clube Futbol de Amposta, once the chairman walked to the change room one day and told the group that among those coaches who looked in the Under-10s and Under-12s had stopped.
“Guys, you will need to spend the team. The first training is ” Gombau recalls his chairman saying, and that responsibility fell to him, despite being the youngest in the group.
An immediate interest in training fetched him a UEFA A permit by the time he was 19. Having travelled around Spain and other parts of Europe to observed various coaches in action, Gombau spent six seasons working with youth clubs in Barcelona — that is where Romeu and many others like Wolverhampton’s Adama Traore, Hector Bellerin of Arsenal and Monaco’s Keita Balde trained under him before coming to Kitchee in Hong Kong in 2009.
The team captain, a Hong Kong international, went up into the direction and complained about being treated like children and how Gombau was not doing anything to improve them tactically. Gombau defended his position with the chairman, stating,”The soccer I wish to perform, if they do not possess the abilities, they can’t play it. Maybe we will not be that great this season, but the day that they have the skills, we’ll be the best team in Hong Kong.”
“When you come to countries where soccer isn’t the primary sport, and where soccer was not developed when the professionals now were children, then you will need to go a couple of steps behind and show them a few basics,” Gombau says about his philosophy of working with youth in Barcelona and professionals in India.
Like anyone with a solid Barcelona influence, Gombau would like to entertain people with his brand of soccer. In ideological terms, he likens Goa coach Sergio Lobera’s doctrine to be the closest to his.
“If I tell a young player to not take risks and play balls, this is the simpler choice for him,” he says. “You will need to measure how you send a message to a young player. You may say,’Under pressure, should you will need to kick a couple of chunks [long], take action ‘
“I need them to take responsibility, and at times we concede goals because we have a risk. But perhaps this will bring you acknowledge you won’t make an error in the next 10 games.”
For a coach who has worked with youth for the majority of his career, the national football structure in India puzzles him. Where they need to be putting in around three times their present quota of 18 league games per year, a squad as inexperienced as he is very likely to grow at a slower pace than he’d like.
We’re missing at least 40 games annually,” he says.
“That’s 40 games of experience, of knowledge, of errors and growth. If Indian football must grow, players need to be active for 10 weeks, with four sessions each week, and a game. If the top experts are playing 18 games over six months, I really don’t need to imagine what happens with the children.
They went two goals down, and missing two major foreign players, forcing Gombau to throw in 19-year-old striker Seiminmang Manchong. Manchong, Daniel and Jerry showed they weren’t scared of reputations as they kept taking on the opposition defenders. Gombau’s encouragement for the younger gamers, irrespective of their mistakes, is continuous.
Odisha now face their toughest aspect of the path to an improbable playoffs area — matches against Goa and ATK to kick off their final four. That would indicate nicking at least a point from the two major clubs, and doing this without Aridane, that has since been replaced by former BFC striker Manuel Onwu will be Gombau’s sternest challenge yet.
Gombau’s post-match speech with the group is just about encouragement, however.
“He explained that our style is to keep the ball and also to play with it,” says Sarangi. “As a staff, we will need to do better. We will need to go game-by-game, and we ought to take something positive from this year. We should not feel like we’ve given it everything and got left behind.”
Gombau understands the enormity of the task on hand but faces it with a grin. The Bengaluru fans know that this is a team that does not take a lot of backward steps. As they cheer for him on the road to the bus, there is a chant in the fans.
Even amid that sound, there is a genuine appreciation for the man who’d led Delhi into a 3-2 win at Kanteerava one year ago.
Gombau looked at the fans and raised his thumb in admiration, before disappearing into the team bus. There’s more work to be performed, and much more advantages to be smoothed.