AFTER MISSING OUT ON INDIAN football's top flight for two years, Churchill Brothers SC are back in contention for the I-League. Two years ago the club were told that they could no longer be a part of the I-league as they did not meet AIFF's club licensing criteria. In those two years, Churchill mainly played the Goa Professional League to keep themselves competitive.
This year, while we had announcements that other Goan teams namely Salgaocar SC, Demo SC and Sporting Club de Goa withdrawing from the top flight, the comeback of Churchill Brothers really brought some relief to the Goan fans.
TFG spoke to Coach Albert Fernandes after an early morning footballing session on various topics from preparations to expectations from this season of the I-league.
Coach Albert was definitely ecstatic to be competing again in top most level of football in the country and shared his joy saying,
"The feeling is great. We have been through a lot of hardships since a long time. Being right there among the top clubs of India, Churchill has been one of the most consistent Indian clubs of all time. We have won the I-League, Federation Cup, the Durand Cup, IFA shield and finished runners-up in all of the top competitions"
It was bitter for the club to exit in a fashion as they did and must have been a tough decision to swallow. Albert agreed that it was rather unfair for the club, that has played so long in the I-League, to be asked to leave in such a manner but they were putting pains behind and looking forward to the current season with enthusiasm.
"Being in the top flight for so long, suddenly going out of the I-League it was a bit harsh on the club. But now, it feels great to be back"
Churchill were forced out of the top flight of Indian football in 2012 citing reasons of the club failing to meet the AFC licencing criteria. Churchill Brothers Sports Club filed for writ petition after being forced out.
Very late in 2016, relegated club Aizawl FC were re-instated in the I-league for 2016-17 by the AIFF. Shortly, after Aizawl were called up, the long pending court decision came out in favour of Churchill and they were rightfully placed back in the 2016-17 season. We asked Coach Albert Fernandes, if this decision of awarding Churchill a place in the upcoming I-League, arrived too late or at an expected time.
Coach Alfred wished the decision had come earlier than it actually did to allow them more preparation time.
"Although the decision was late and frankly we had started the preparation but we were not sure if the decision would go our way. If we're sure, then we could have been more ready than we already are. But we can't complain (about the timing of the decision) as it's their (AIFF) issue. But we are back and we can lead on from here"
Churchill Brothers SC have had no news about signings yet. If any deals are expected to be coming to a close anytime soon, Coach Alfred said a few deals are midway to completion. He said most of the signings are done and waiting to get the paperwork done as soon as the new year begins.
"Problem is that there is a lot of paper work to be done. Until those formalities are complete we cannot disclose who has been signed for sure. As most players whom we want were involved in the Goa Pro League, we can finalise things settle down"
Churchill Brothers SC being the only Goan representation in the I-League this year. A lot of fans would be hoping to see them as they are the only Goan team in the I-League. Now, if that meant Churchill Brothers would be under the burden of expectations from Goan fans, Coach Albert said he would be glad to see all Goan teams fighting it out in the I-league as it also adds to the most interesting derbies in Indian Football. Since every Goan club inherits a great history of the home soil, Albert feels that the club will do their best to give the fans what they deserve.
"Frankly we would love to see all Goan teams competing in the I-league. They are not just clubs but legacy clubs of India who have been there since the formative years and kept the Goan flag flying. Also, there is nothing like a Goan derby"
He continued talking on the representation of Goans at the national level saying,
"Having more teams from Goa would have just given opportunity to many more players and it's exciting for the players and fans alike. We will continue to play for the Goan pride and hope our fans come out and support us"
Albert hopes with the good mix of youth and experienced players in the squad they will put up a good show for all. Quizzed whether he has been allocated the resources to pick his choice of players, Albert, said circumstances were not ideal but he will do his best to build up a strong squad in the competition.
"We are shopping for players now but since we got the news of being included in the I-league a little late, we kind of missed the bus. But with the players with us, we still have a competitive squad"
After their expulsion from I-League, have played in the Goa Professional League as their major tournament and will be relying on the tried-and-tested players from there and may add a couple of foreigners strategically in vital positions. Churchill has been known for getting the major chunk of goals from foreigners. TFG asked Coach Albert if this time around Churchill be following suit or can the goals come via the Indian players too.
"Team consists of 11 players and all are equally important for the team. Foreign signings they help a bit. We bring foreign players to help the local players. We can only get the desired results if both talents local and foreign gel together"
On the topic of players of varied nationality, Coach Albert talked about the contribution of the foreign players in the team and what makes a team a balanced one.
"It's not that the foreigners will perform and Indians will just be onlookers. There are some exceptional Indian players who blend well with the foreign players and create something (magical)."
TFG spoke on the Albert's thoughts on the complex issue of the merger of I-League and Indian Super League in the coming year. There were lot of speculations of how the new league would be structured and we enquired a Coach's perspective if he would like to see a longer league or a short version just like the Indian Super League. Coach Albert shared his thoughts very well saying the aim of the merger must keep the development in mind before arriving at the final structure. He is hopeful to see the new league as a longer one and much a refreshing chapter in Indian football.
"Any decision that comes along should be for the betterment of Indian football. That has to be the prime focus. If our football grows, we grow as well. We grow in Asia, we grow in the world. They must start from the grassroots and see that everything is taken care till the senior level"
On the merger issue, Coach Albert stressed that the new league must see to it that the Indian player must not be left behind should any restrictions are imposed on the number of players starting because, at the end of the day, Indian players need more exposure to the top most level of football. He was firm on the point that there should be more opportunities for Indian talent to showcase themselves. That, he said, is the only way we can grow.
Since, it is just one season before the long-spoken merger happens, we wished to know Churchill brothers intentions and expectations to be part of the I-League from probably the last I-League season. Also considering Churchill not joining the other Goan teams in their exit from the league, What was going on in the camp before the decision came out, What are the plans in the coming year in the build up to the next.. Coach Albert answered these queries saying,
"When you have hope, you have expectations. We always expect to finish higher and better which will mark progress for the club. Unless you do that, there is no aim or goal. We believe in having dreams to achieve something"
On the aim of the team to target in the league position, as per the resources at hand, Coach Albert was modest enough to say that winning the season is a distant dream this time around.
"With the set of players I have, we aim to finish at a respectable position. I can't dream of winning the league but finshing in a good position would be the best result for us. And if we win, that would be an icing on the cake"
As final thoughts, Coach Albert Fernandes called out to all the true Churchill fans to comeback to flock the stadium in numbers for the games and sent a message to all Goan football lovers.
"A lot of fans were loyal to Churchill Brothers desserted the stadium as Churchill were not part of the I-League. We received this feedback from a lot of our fans. My message to all fans is comeback to support us and watch us, we look forward to your moral support. Churchill Brothers SC promises that we won't let the fans down as we play for them. As a parting shot, I would like to say that this season we will dedicate to our fans especially the Goans"
Churchill start their campaign on January 08 at 19:00 hours against Mohun Bagan AC in an away trip.