A fairytale turnaround?
In conversation with Arif Mohammad, Romanian centre-back and Chennaiyin FC's captain, Lucian Goian, talks about his journey in India, the club's performance and qualification hopes
How has been your journey in Indian football – from Mumbai to Chennai?
I played three seasons with Mumbai and I got very attached to the club but it was time for a change and I got an offer from Chennaiyin FC. They are a very good club with two championships. So, no hesitation in saying yes.
During the initial phase of the season, there was visible inconsistency. What went wrong for Chennai?
Probably the only thing that went wrong was that we weren't scoring, in those initial four games. We had so many opportunities to score but were unlucky in front of the goal. In the home game against Mumbai and ATK we had so many chances. I think we played well against Bengaluru too. After that, though the team has improved and we have found our balance and the people in the front have started to score and you have seen the results.
Suddenly, there is a talk going around of a new Chennaiyin FC after the game against NorthEast United. Do you still think the lads can make it to the semifinals?
With Owen Coyle coming in, he has brought in a lot of energy; we are working hard in training. Even with John Gregory, we were training hard but maybe something was missing. Maybe the results weren't coming and players started to lose confidence and we have regained the confidence that we needed to win games and I think we very much can make it to the semi-finals. It isn't going to be easy for sure but we will never give up and we will keep fighting till the last moment as long as we still have a chance to qualify for the semis. Even if it is only a small chance we will never give up. We are in a very good position to get to the semi-finals.
Having played in India for 5 years, what do you think the country as a footballing nation needs to address to gain more international success?
For the international success of the national team, it takes time but the local players have started to improve in the last few years because almost all teams have good foreign coaches and they try to help the Indian players to get better and better every game in the training. My opinion is that for the long term there needs to be improvement in the level of play and to implement the winning mentality in academies for kids because it starts from there. In Europe for example many young players when they make it to the first team, from the first game are ready, be it physically or tactically. Here I have seen some good Indian players, with really good qualities. The young players still have to improve – they probably didn't learn at the academies when they were kids but I see that the grassroots segment is improving which is good for India.
What has been your favourite moment in Indian football?
I have some really good moments in India, some good goals that I scored in Mumbai. In ISL–3 with an amazing team, we finished the season on the top of the table but we were unlucky to not qualify for the final. Also for me every game is a special moment, in India I enjoy every single game, the fans are amazing and that makes me put the maximum on the field.
Nerijus Valskis has been one of the key additions this season. He is definitely on a goal-scoring spree. How has his inclusion affected the team?
For sure he has been a great addition to the CFC squad. His performances and goals are proof of that. He is in some great form and has shown why he is a lethal striker. I hope he continues contributing in the same manner. He now has 12 goals and 4 assists in 14 games.
If given a chance to strategize the play for the team, how would you go about it?
For now, I don't think much about this, we have coaches and they are taking care of this, they are doing a really good job. Like I stated already there are some really good coaches in the league. For me, I have always worked hard and have been a fighter and I hate losing. Every coach is trying to bring in the winning mentality and ask 100 per cent from the players even in training and to do the maximum for the team.
You have turned 36. How long do you think you can stand as the wall for any team you play?
I am almost 37, in two weeks' time I turn 37 but I feel 28-29 (laughs). I have a lot of experience and that helps me a lot in the games. Physically I am good, no injuries so that is a good thing for me and I am very happy about it and this is the most important thing. With this age, people start to think about retirement but so far, I haven't thought about it. As long as I am able to be physically fit I will keep playing, the moment I feel my body doesn't feel right I will raise my hand and stop and that will not be an easy moment for someone who has played football all his life. I live for football; in every breath, I am thinking about football and when the moment will come it will be a very difficult moment.
Your advice to the budding footballers of India.
To the footballers in India, my advice is what every other coach would advise – do everything you can and follow your dream, everybody has a dream and our dream is to become better, to win trophies, to score goals and to have a lot of positive performance in football. The advice is to do whatever it takes to make that happen.