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A fast-forward look into the progress at the Dempo Academy

The Golden Eagles aim to complete a full circle to compete for major trophies with their academy graduates in the coming years

Dempo Sports Club was one among the best Indian clubs until their infamous pull out from the I-League. They have represented the country in Asia, five-time national champions, second division champions, Federation Cup, Durand Cup and two-time Super Cup champions with their last major title in 2015-16 season before pulling out of the I-League in 2017.

Three years since, Dempo Academy has won quite a few laurels themselves. They won three back-to-back GFA (Goa Football Association) U-14 League titles. After finishing runners-up in two consecutive seasons, the U-16 side clinched the GFA U-16 title in 2019-20 without a single defeat while the Under-18 side claimed the GFA U-18 title once in 2017-18.

Although part of the 2019-20 season had to be deferred due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Dempo’s youth sides have qualified for the AIFF (All India Football Federation) Sub Juniors (U-14) and Junior (U-16) and the Elite League (U-18).

Despite not playing in the I-League, the academy has provided players for the state and national aged-group teams right from Under-15 to Under-20. Shameek Vas represented India in AFC (Asian Football Confederation) U-16 and SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Cups. Vas has been lately joined by Delmon Rebello, Shayne Don Afonso and Clarance Fernandes at the AIFF national camps.

Within the academy teams too, several players from the Under-20 contingent have been promoted to the first team playing in the Goa Pro League.

GFA U-14 Champions 2019-20

GFA U-16 Champions 2019-20

The Dempo Academy started off with 24 boys each in the first two years. It increased to 34 ahead of the third season with a handfull joining the non-residential teams as well. From the 2019-20 Under-14 talent identification camp, a total of 70 players were selected for the second phase from where 37 made the cut for the final selection phase at the Dempo Academy, Ella Ground.

“We have a contract of four years with the boys but it is difficult to say when we are going to see results from the academy. It is like waiting for the flower after the seeds are planted,” the former Academies Technical director, late Karnagaran Naidoo a.k.a. Katz Naidoo, had stated during the phase 1 launch of the academy in 2017.

Naidoo, who passed away in December 2019, would certainly have reasons to be pleased with the achievements till date.

“You can only build once you have a strong foundation, and that is exactly what the Late Katz Naidoo was contracted to deliver – the foundation,” club chairman, Shrinivas Dempo, reminisced to Goal.

Naidoo was roped in by the club in 2015 after Goa Football Development Council (GFDC) decided not to renew the South African’s contract as technical director.

“Katz Naidoo meticulously planned everything, right from the infrastructural requirements to the design of the academy, the training sessions of the boys and the nutritional aspects,” former Dempo assistant general secretaty who headed operations of the academy at the time, Jonathan D’Souza, also admitted.

“He (Naidoo) will always be credited for the culture and discipline he has been able to instil in the teams and his ability to develop our coaches – instilling in them the need to prepare their sessions with the use of (weekly) ‘micro cycles’ and ‘session plans’, which have in turn helped them develop better players,” Dempo added.

Dempo SC have now appointed Anju Turambekar as their new technical director. The 31-year-old AFC A License holder headed previously headed the Grassroots Development Division at the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

“The philosophy of Dempo is not just to win but to contribute to the greater vision of football in India and I am happy that I am being offered the opportunity to fill in the gaps. For me, it is going to be an exciting new challenge,” stated Anju.

The academy’s maiden selection drive was held in two-to-three phases between February to April that year and the boys stayed in rented apartments in Ribander for the first batch that begun training in June 2017. 

While the boys schooled at the Fr. Agnel High School (Pilar), they trained at the Fr. Agnel Pilar ground till September 2017. Although the Dempo Academy ground at Ella was equiped by October 2017, the residential facility was ready only by June 2019.

With a possibility of promoting 9-10 academy graduates to the senior team in the upcoming term of 2020-21, Dempo further stated, “The ultimate plan is, the same that the Dempo teams of the past have implemented and that is, to win major trophies.

“In the coming years, we see ourselves back in the I-League through the organic process of gaining promotion from the second division I-League. Only this time, we see ourselves as a club, who would aim at winning the crown through the help of the talent that we develop in house.”

Coaches speak:

Dempo U-14 head coach Pradip Chopdekar started as the club’s U-16 coach in 2016 before Naidoo handed him the assignment of training the fresh academy recruits.

“To look after under 14 team is a huge challenge as a coach, because in a way, we have to start from scratch and have to build a new team together, and that’s why it’s essential to have exceptional technical staff to make sure the work is done in a smooth fashion,” he said.

“At Dempo Sports Club, when we look at this age group, we look at technique, insight and attitude of the players while scouting. This helps us with understanding the match day potential of each player, hence all our training sessions are more match related.

“We also tend to focus on life skills and morale values, as we tend to spend a lot of time with the boys, its necessary that they grow into good human being, which is a big point that is pushed forward by the Dempo SC brand, that we maintain the game as well as the personal development of our Youth Players at a high level. If we are well organized outside the pitch, then training session and matches will always go according to our plans.”

Remus Gomes, as the head coach of the academy and in-charge of U-16 competitions, commented on his experience at the academy and the challenges that accompanied.

“It was our late technical director, Mr. Katz Naidoo, who gave me the responsibility and guided me to take up the job of head coach [of the Dempo Academy]. It was my responsibility to deliver, which I knew would not be easy but an exciting opportunity,” he recalled.

“In the first year of the academy (2017-18), I knew I had two goal keepers and so I asked the boys, ‘how many of you’ll are strikers?’. To my surprise, 11 out of the 22 players raised their hands. I said to myself, this is a challenge to make a team and to give my boys the correct positions to play and teach them the role and responsibilities,” the former Sporting Clube de Goa defender explained.

“In the second year, it was another challenge to give our best in the GFA U-16 League with half the team a year younger but we still played good brand of football heavily based on ball possession.

“The third year, we had to keep up our good work and we won the GFA U-16 League without losing a game and with two games in hand. It was a great team effort overall. We scored 43 goals and conceded just 3 goals. That showed our quality,” Gomes exuberated.

The U-18 and U-20 coach Anthony D’Souza, with the task of maintaining tandem between the age group teams until the boys earn their promotion to the senior team, commented, “The team is formed with players from our U-16 Academy team and some are of our U-18 team of last year, keeping a large chunk of the contingent based on the players we already have in the already existing age group teams.

He added, “We also need to develop a sense of player progression, so that we can further develop talent while keeping a quota of spots for players that will be scouted during the course of the season, thereby, some off the talent is also spotted during the tournaments held by Higher Secondary Schools as well as the open trials the club conducts before the season commences.

“And since this particular age group is a crucial one from a career standpoint, with the players having to decide about their future career, we always put a strong onus on them to take their education seriously,” D’Souza pointed out.

Finally, touching on the aspects he seeks in players before absorbing them in the first team, Dempo head coach Samir Naik laid it down to the system of play. “Our set system of play helps me to take players on-board with a consideration if a player can fit in particular position,” he mentioned.

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