Ever since it’s inception in 2014, the ISL has been a transformative force in the Indian sports scene. And no one embodies the new culture of growth and development like FC Goa.
Patrons of the beautiful game in the the state of Goa, the Club has gone on to become arguably Goa’s most iconic brand. In the last decade or so, the Gaurs have been the voice to the population’s enthusiasm for the game, building a philosophy that is unique to the Club whilst leading the way in the country in terms of grassroots development, providing a structure for grooming the youth of the state and engagin with the community and fans in meaningful ways.
The growth has been multi-faceted and today, we dive deep into what’s happening behind the scenes as the country continues to evolve on the footballing front.
A youth system that sets the mark
The Club has been keen on not only garnering success for the 1st team but also has put a focus on developing players and giving them the platform for them to shine.
Ever since the start of the youth program in 2017, the Gaurs have reaped the benefits of the robust program. And in addition to the ones who donned the orange of FC Goa, the Club has seen 26 of it’s graduates plying their trade in the top 2 leagues in country.
“We have come a long way. When I joined, we started from the age groups of U-14, U-16, U-18, U-20 and the Dev (developmental) team,” remarked Derrick Pereira, the Technical Director of the Club.
“In the first year, the U-18 and the developmental team trained together before we separated the developmental team from the U-18 from the following year. So we kept on improving our structure along with our coaching staff.
“Later, we started our grassroots leagues (Little Gaurs Leagues) through the Forca Goa foundation for U-6, U-8 and U-10 kids to build the football culture from an early age.”
And the Gaurs are not stopping there. There are big plans ahead and if you are an aspirant, this should make for good reading.
“Right now, we don’t have a residential academy but we have set short term and long term plans,” Pereira added
“The short term plan is to scout players from other teams, mostly from Goa. We look at other places (states) also. We have a residential facility only for the developmental team and some of the U-18 boys and we see that education is taken care of for the outstation players.”
But what about the approach? What do the Club really want from the youth teams? What does the Club stress on? Is it just football development in mind when it comes to the youth? Pereira further clarified.
“Our focus is on development rather than results. We follow a system and style which will help players to improve their talent and skills. We have training sessions day in and day out,” the veteran pointed out.
“Like for U-14 and U-16 age groups, we have four sessions a week considering that they have to give time for their education as well. The U-18 team trains five times a week and the development team regularly, like the first team.
Further, we look at developing players overall – footballing skills as well as to build their character. In football, discipline is very important, may it be in football or in their private life.”
Little Gaurs League: Giving children
The Little Gaurs League has been a shining example of what the Club is all about. The Flagship program of the Forca Goa Foundation, the Club’s sister concern the league is to aimed at provide opportunities for children to play regular, competitive football in a safe and organised environment, by building an ecosystem that facilitates this.
The League is one of FC Goa’s key strategies in developing footballers, increasing game time for young players helps hone their decision making ability and match skills.
Into it’s fourth season, the Little Gaurs League has quickly become one of India’s biggest baby leagues. This year will see more than 1000 children, divided into 120 teams participating across three zones viz. North, South and Vasco in Goa.
This edition of the tournament, which is slated to run across 3 months, will see the children play a minimum of 12 games – giving them the opportunity to showcase their talents and passion for the game.
“Our aim is to develop grassroots in Goa and the grassroots infrastructure across India. And by grassroots, we don’t only mean children playing, but the entire ecosystem – the grounds, they physios, the referees, the coaches,” remaked, Nathaniel Dcosta, a senior manager with Forca Goa Foundation.
“And the Little Gaurs League is what enables a lot of what I spoke about. We started the league a few years ago because we realised that at the junior age categories from U6 to U12, there weren’t many competitions for children to participate in.
“Children would participate in school tournaments. But if they had a bad day on the ground or were missing their best players, a loss would mean the end of their season after just a game. And that’s unfair.
“For a child to truly develop in his/her career, they needed more regular competition. And that’s what inspired us to start the Little Gaurs League. While the number is gaudy to look at, it took each and every one of us to get this thing up and running – understanding the challenges and finding solutions to them.
“With public transportation, not being a strong suit for the state, it’s a challenge for anyone to bring their children regularly to the games. The parents not always see value in bringing their children to play football regularly. So we had our share of challenges to overcome.”
And their biggest one till date was none other than the pandemic – which caused interruptions across the globe.
“The pandemic – indeed was a really challenging time for all of us,” iterated Dcosta. “That period was equally important. We felt an urge to do things for the children while remained within the confines of their home.
“Our in-house program provided the children with sessions sent to them on WhatsApp with activities they could do by themselves. We designed activities that needed minimal support in terms of space and equipments.
“It was a time of learning and unlearning. But we were very motivated with everyone working towards the same goal – to keep children connected with football and provide them with a reason to be joyful.”
The Little Gaurs League’s reach of influence extends beyond the mere development of football skills amongst the participating children. The Forca Goa Foundation, in an attempt to make this a wholesome experience, also conducts workshops on nutrition and waste management.
“The learning has to be well-rounded and wholesome. It’s not only about creating footballers for the future, but give the children a wholesome education that is enjoyable, something that they look forward to imbibing in themselves. That’s what the Little Gaurs League is all about.”
In a very little span of time, Forca Goa Foundation’s Little Gaurs League has made a big impact – brining communities together (like with Salvador), attracting teams from Mumbai to come all the way to Goa to participate in, become a source of inspiration (with their work with Vasco-based Kiran Niketan) and giving children from all communities a chance to compete and rise above the odds.
Goa grows as FC Goa grows
The Club’s impact on the community can be felt all over. And the development of the Salvador do Mundo Panchayat Football Ground is one such shining example. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the club and the Village Panchayat was signed in 2020, which saw FC Goa begin using the Panchayat ground as their training facilities for a three-year period till 2023.
“We have long believed in reviving Goa’s existing infrastructure before developing any new infrastructure. Working with the Salvador Panchayat gives us an opportunity to work towards that goal. We are also particularly excited about working with the Panchayat to develop local talent. We are hopeful that this partnership is successful and lasts for many, many years.” said FC Goa President Akshay Tandon when the MoU was signed.
The partnership entailed the development of two football grounds – one of which had been playing host to the FC Goa first team as its practice ground. The other was developed for the use of the Panchayat and the local residents with the primary aim of providing a good playing ground for the locals to avail.
In addition, the club also organizes community initiatives for the locals. The club continues to also look after the ground maintenance as per the terms of the MoU with the Panchayat.
Over the past one and a half years, the Club has spent close to Rupees One Crore on refurbishing the turf and has remained committed to developing the infrastructure at the Salvador do Mundo Panchayat Ground at its own cost (close to Rupees Two Lakhs a month) whilst also looking to develop the local talent in the region by imparting technical know-how and foster community development by means of the beautiful game through coaches from FC Goa.
For the same, the Club scouted, trained and provided technical infrastructure to the U14 and U18 teams of Sporting Club of Porvorim, the first member of FC Goa’s feeder club program. FC Goa has also organised grassroots festivals every Sunday for boys and girls of the Porvorim region in the U-12 and U-10 categories.
During this period of time, to extend further support to the community, FC Goa has been helping financially in the maintenance of the venue which entails other sporting facilities and activities for the locals.