The five-time national champions Dempo SC is down, nevertheless determined to bounce back in the I-League with high spirits. Dempo SC Chairman Shrinivas Dempo, in an exclusive interview with Allan D’Cruz, reveals plans to get the club back on track. He says nurturing talent for the club will be his prime focus. Here are the excerpts

Q: The fact that India’s most successful club Dempo SC will not be seen in action during next I-League season will be a bitter pill to swallow for the club’s loyal fans

The club’s loyal fans and supporters are bound to be dejected as you say, just as we at the Club, myself downwards, see this as a definite disappointment. Each of us bound up with the Club, from President to the squad, assumes responsibility for this unfortunate turn of events. That said, Dempo SC has been known for its demonstration of commitment to the sport through much of its glorious history this far. We commit to put our best foot forward to bounce back into the I – League by getting on top of the game during our season in the Second Division.

Q: Is there any area you would want to pin point wherein the team could have done differently and survived in the I-League this season?

The gift of hindsight is an easy one with which to reflect on what might have gone wrong. Injuries to our key players, who had been part of FC Goa where a number of these were first sustained is a factor that comes to mind. In fact, the length of the playing season itself was to our detriment. The mid-season change of coach from Arthur Papas to Trevor Morgan also played a part, with such switches, regardless of the obvious merits of the coaches involved, always taking a toll on the team. Arthur’s bid to change the team profile in favour of a lower average playing age, which was aimed at strengthening the team in the medium term, meant that we were without a few of our earlier regulars.

Q: Dempo SC was the only club to have fielded most of their players in the inaugural edition of ISL following which many of the players suffered injuries. Do you think it was a bad decision to involve most of the players for FC Goa?

Looking back, I do not see this as a bad decision at all. It was a natural fit for me, as an I – League team owner with a stake in an ISL franchise, to loan players to FC Goa. The team made more than a respectable showing in the inaugural outing, too. Of course, a number of I – League teams last season refused to loan their boys to the ISL. But seeing the runaway success of its first edition, a number of them this season have changed their minds. There’s been a growing chorus from players, too, to play in the franchises having seen for themselves the visibility and the marketability that the ISL provides.

Q:Going by the fan base once the club commanded, do you feel the fans let the team down by not turning up in large numbers even for the crucial home matches?

I have a number of thoughts on this troubling subject. First, this situation is unique to Goa. Perhaps the large number of Goan teams for a territory of our size, entailing a large number of matches, coupled with an existing, well-defined and divided fan base caused the match attendances to dwindle. Perhaps lifestyle changes among today’s fans opting for live telecasts had something to do with this trend. Whatever it is, the very survivability of Goan teams is at stake. All of us, which means the top clubs of Goa, current and former members of the League, ought to be introspecting deeply on this matter.

Q: And what could be the reasons behind fans not turning out in large numbers at the stadiums?

I have just spoken of some of these. Low match attendance was what we had to face time after time, match after match, despite adopting strategies to ensure the contrary, such as staggering the match timings across late-afternoon or early-evening time-slots, providing live entertainment to accompany the events, keeping ticketing reasonably low. The fact that none of these stratagems worked is a matter of concern and makes future match attendances something to worry about. Much thought, much soul searching is called for.

Q: Do you think AIFF fell short in their attempt to promote the I-League the way they promoted the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League?

All said and done, it is absolutely the case that the I – League is the flagship event of the AIFF. It is the official sanctioned event in India in terms of how football is played in countries across the world. All FIFA-related events make the I – League their pivot, their source, their key. While the AIFF agreed to the ISL as a measure to popularise Indian football and demonstrate a revenue earning model for its future in the country, it is important to remember that the promotion of the ISL inaugural edition was the responsibility of IMG- Reliance, not the AIFF. Coming back to the two Leagues, the endeavour of our Regulators is for greater eventual integration in Indian football, across and between its events.

Q: A senior AIFF official had earlier said that the clubs will have to take the initiative to promote I-League. Do you think Dempo SC had done enough in this regard?

Dempo SC, I firmly believe, did all that was necessary to promote the I – League. I’ve just described the strategies we chose to ensure greater fan involvement in matches. None seemed to work, which is, as I have said, extremely vexing.

Q: How would you rate Aussie coach Arthur Papas’ stint with Dempo SC?

Like I said, Arthur changed the profile of our team, turning it into a younger, leaner outfit. His choices have demonstrably been among India’s best, highly-rated players with years of football ahead of them. I am mindful of the criticism of many of our fans and loyal supporters, though, that this change of profile ought to have been more gradual, more measured, than what it was. He saw the team in the long term, they felt he did too much too soon.

Q: Given the fact that the foreign coaches did not have the same rate of success as opposed to the Goan coach Armando Colaco under whom the Club achieved many laurels, can we expect another local coach taking the reins of the five-time national champions and bring them back to the national stage?

While I believe in examining all factors to a decision before taking it and while I wouldn’t know how much credence to give to the foreign-versus-local debate when it comes to coaches, my first thoughts for the coming season and our stint in the second division would be to reward long-term loyalty to the club by handing over its reins to our very own Mauricio Afonso.

Q: As Dempo SC will now be competing in the second division league, will there be any reduction in team budget? If so, will it not prompt club’s high-profile players to look out for other options?

Team budget reductions in such circumstances are not just axiomatic but automatic. For one thing, with the foreign player component no longer relevant, salary spends are bound to come down. I am deeply gratified though with players with whom we have long-term playing contracts – they have chosen to stay with Dempo SC through our second division stint, a reaction that justifies the club ethos they identify with regardless of its fortunes. The savings that shall accrue from such salary reductions shall be ploughed back into youth development as also into infrastructure development, meaning football wins, making this truly a silver lining to the cloud of relegation.

Q:In the absence of proper youth development academies in Goa, Is there any plan to invest in setting up a dedicated youth development academy, which could also help Dempo SC outsource players to other clubs?

A youth development academy has been on our agenda, and with governmental approvals to the proposal beginning to fall into place it should not be long before our ‘player nursery’ sets up with the proper know-how. The products of our academy could then well be outsourced to Dempo SC and other Goan clubs or those upcountry. That would put a seal on our commitment to youth and player development.

Q: You had once suggested for a change in club’s name and wished to have a city-based name so as to attract more crowd to the stadium. You tried it with FC Goa during the ISL and it was received overwhelmingly. Now that Dempo SC will be playing second tier football, is it the right time for the name change? Can we expect a city-based name for Dempo SC?

I had initially favoured a name change in line with clubs the world over who are named and identified by the cities they belong to. As you say, we tried it with success in the ISL, keeping our name short, specific, clear and local. Why we haven’t moved ahead with Dempo SC renaming was the plea by a number of our fans who wished to have us keep the name, Dempo. We are at the thinking stage in this matter, frankly.