Kiko Ramirez leads Odisha’s makeover but immediate glory might not be on the cards

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Odisha in ISL 2020-21

Odisha’s first season in the Indian Super League was nothing short of a nightmare, but with a new-look lineup, they will hope for much improved performances in their 2021-22 campaign. Spanish tactician Kiko Ramirez has taken over the reins at the club and has been entrusted with the big responsibility of turning the tables in Odisha’s favor.

Apart from recruiting new players and a new manager, the Kalinga Warriors have also roped in former Spain international David Villa as their Head of Global Football Operations, while they also have secured strategic tie-ups with English club Watford and Brazilian team Avai.

A look at last season’s performance

Odisha was the basement team of last season’s ISL winning only two games and conceding 44 goals in 20 matches. Apart from a few Indian youngsters who showed promise, there were hardly any positives to take back from their previous campaign.

New Signings ahead of the 2021-22 ISL season

ISL-winning defender Victor Mongil will lead Odisha’s defense

ISL-winning defender Victor Mongil will lead Odisha’s defense

The Juggernauts changed their entire foreign contingent after finishing at the bottom last season. In total, there are 11 new names on the roster, which includes six foreign acquisitions. 

Among overseas defenders, Ramirez has emphasized ISL experience and has roped in former ATK central defender Victor Mongil. The Spaniard played a crucial role in the erstwhile ATK’s title triumph in the 2019-20 ISL season and he will look to replicate the same form in Odisha’s colors. 

Providing the ISL-winning defender some support at the heart of the defense will be another veteran in Hector Rodas, who has featured for many La Liga teams including Levante and Real Betis. Together, the Mongil-Rodas duo is expected to bring a lot of stability to the Odisha backline and in the dressing room as well.

In midfield, Ramirez has signed former ATK Mohun Bagan player Javi Hernández after the Real Madrid Castilla product’s pretty consistent performances in his two years in India. Malaysian midfielder Liridon Krasniqi fills up the AFC slot for Odisha

Aridai Cabrera could be deployed in the flanks to provide width to Odisha’s attack which is expected to be led by Brazilian marksman Jonathas De Jesus. The lanky forward is being considered as the Juggernauts’ most high-profile signing for the upcoming season. The 32-year old has featured for teams in the Serie A, Bundesliga, and La Liga as well and a lot will be expected of him.

Ramirez has also signed a plethora of promising domestic players, like last season’s I-League-winning defender Sebastian Thangmuansang, Lalruatthara, and Sahil Panwar. Isaac Vanmalsawma has swapped shirts from Jamshedpur to join Odisha and will provide the Spanish tactician with an additional midfield option. Lastly, youngster Nikhil Raj has joined the club on loan from the newly-formed team based in Kerala, Kickstart.

Predicted Starting Lineup

Arshdeep Singh; Shubham Sarangi, Hector Rodas, Victor Mongil, Lalruatthara; Gaurav Bora, Vinit Rai; Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Javi Hernandez, Daniel Lalhlimpuia; Jonathan de Jesus.


Foreign signings need to deliver on the pitch, but it will be fair to say that the Odisha management has been clever in their transfer dealings. Players like Hernandez and Mongil, who have the experience of winning the league, will add experience to this camp. Whilst Hernandez will bring in calmness and creativity in midfield, Mongil will look to keep it steady at the back. Along with them, Jonathan and Rodas complete what looks like a well-balanced overseas core on paper.

The depth in their Indian contingent is quite impressive with Arshdeep Singh and Karanjit Singh rivaling for a spot in goal to the likes of Isak Vanlalruatfela and Premjit Singh competing for spots further forward on the pitch. Ramirez will have plenty of raw talent at his disposal and it would be up to him to groom the youngsters for the big stage.


Jonathas de Jesus during his stint with Hannover 96

Jonathas de Jesus during his stint with Hannover 96

Jonathas is a top player who has tested himself at the top level but acclimatizing to the Indian conditions is a different psychological challenge altogether which will be faced by other signings in Rodas, Cabrera, and Krasniqi.

A lack of a clear choice for the starting players in crucial positions can hurt the team in a long and hard season that will be spent in a bio-bubble.

Season Predictions

Considering where they finished last season, hardly anyone would expect the Kalinga Warriors to fight for a playoff spot this season which can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Odisha fans would want to see more resilience from their team than what was on offer last season, while Ramirez will look to provide them with a few reasons to smile. 

A proper philosophy, a distinctive style of play and a mid-table finish – these components should make up a decent 2021-22 outing for Odisha, whose road to glory seems to be a long one, devoid of shortcuts.