Ahead of the 2019-20 Indian Super League (ISL) season, Delhi Dynamos FC, the perennial underachievers of the competition, shifted base from the national capital to Bhubaneshwar due to economic and administrative reasons and were rechristened Odisha FC.
The new base and name did not induce a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes as Odisha finished their debut season sixth on the 10-team points table. The Kalinga Warriors accumulated 25 points from 18 matches as they won and lost seven matches each.
They have managed to bring together a compact team with balance in all the departments for the seventh season, scheduled to begin in Goa on Friday.
The franchise, owned by the GMS Inc, at least on paper, wear a formidable look and are determined to come up with an improved show this time around. Nevertheless, Odisha have the firepower to surpass their last year’s performance.
Their first match of the season is against Hyderabad FC on November 23.
Going into the new season, Odisha FC have overhauled their foreign contingent. They retained only Senegalese defensive midfielder Diawandou Diagne and Spanish attacker Manuel Onwu from last year's squad.
Young Indian talents like Gaurav Bora, Shubham Sarangi, Jerry Mawihminghthanga, Nadhakumar Sekar and Vinit Rai have all been retained.
The overseas players released by them are Marcos Tebar, Xisco Hernandes, Francisco Dorronsoro, and Martin Perez Guedes. Indian players Narayan Das, Bikarmjit Singh, Romeo Fernandes, Rana Gharami, Albino Gomes, and Seiminmang Manchong along with several others have also left the side.
Among the eighteen new recruits, the major ones include Brazilian strikers Marcelo Pereira, better known as Marcelinho, and Diego Mauricio.
The other foreign signings are former Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor, Australian right-back Jacob Tratt, and South African central-midfielder Cole Alexander.
They have also roped in some exciting Indian talents such as the experienced Indian goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh and young midfielder Moirangthem Thoiba Singh, who last played for Minerva Punjab FC in the I-League.
The Marcelinho factor
Odisha have bolstered their attack by recruiting Marcelinho, one of the prolific scorers in the history of the ISL. He will team up with Maurico, who has played alongside Neymar and Philippe Coutinho in Brazil's U-20 squad.
The other forwards in the squad are Spaniard Manuel Onwu and Indians Daniel Lalhalimpuia and Laishram Singh.
Odisha's midfield is powered by several top Indian players such as Nandhakumar Sekar, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Vinit Rai, Thoiba Singh, Jerry Mawihmingthana, and Boaringdao Bodo.
However, their key weapon at the centre of the pitch will be the 31-year-old Cole Alexander, who has several years of top-flight football in the South African Premier League under his belt.
The team’s backline will be protected by Englishman Steven Taylor and Australian Jacob Tratt. The 31-year-old Taylor will be bringing his rich experience of guarding the defence of Newcastle United in the English Premier League and Wellington Phoenix in the A-League to the ISL.
Diawandou Diagne, who impressed in his debut campaign for Odisha, is a versatile player. The 26-year-old Senegalese can be used as a centre-back or a holding midfielder.
Odisha’s formidable defence also features some talented Indian players like Shubham Sarangi, Gaurav Bora and Kamalpreet Singh.
One spot, two candidates
New signing Kamaljit Singh and young Arshdeep Singh will be expected to fight for regular positions between the posts. The 24-year-old Kamaljith, who last played for Hyderabad FC, was a part of the senior Indian squad under coach Igor Stimac. The 23-year-old Arshadeep had guarded Odisha's net in a couple of matches last season where their first-choice keeper was Spaniard Francisco Dorronsoro.
Stuart Baxter, the former manager of the South African and Finland national teams, is Odisha's new coach. The 67-year-old has a coaching career spanning over 25 years. He has managed England's U-19 team as well as clubs in Portugal, Norway, Sweden, China, and Japan. Being somebody whose coaching strategy revolves around counter attacks, Baxter has paid utmost attention to Odisha's defensive formation.
Goalkeepers: Kamaljit Singh, Ravi Kumar, Arshdeep Singh, and Ankit Bhuyan.
Defenders: Steven Taylor, Jacob Tratt, Diawandou Diagne, Shubham Sarangi, Gaurav Bora, Hendry Antonay, Kamalpreet Singh, George D'Souza, Mohammad Sajid Dhot, and Saurabh Meher.
Midfielders: Cole Alexander, Nandhakumar Sekar, Paul Ramfangzauva, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Vinit Rai, Thoiba Singh, Isak Vanlalruatfela, Jerry Mawihmingthana, Boaringdao Bodo, and Lahrezuala Sailung.
Forwards: Marcelo Pereira, Manuel Onwu, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Diego Mauricio, and Laishram Singh.