ISL 2020-21 FC Goa sensation Ishan Panditia scores 4 goals in 45 minutes; eyes national team spot- Ishan Pandita has been the most impactful player in the Indian Super League this season. At FC Goa, he has played only 45 minutes but has managed to find the net four times already. But his first three goals came at a time when Goa needed him the most. The super-sub has scored three goals in the dying embers of the game with Goa trailing.
It all began in the match against Hyderabad FC. Goa were trailing 0-1 when Pandita was subbed on in the 86th minute. A minute later, he made his first shot of the match count. Then again, he was subbed on against ATK Mohun Bagan in the 80th minute. He repeated the feat, making his only shot count to equalize for Goa. He repeated that again in the match against Mumbai City FC, rescuing a point for Goa with just seconds left to play. In the last match against Chennaiyin FC with Goa trailing 1-2, Pandita scored to salvage a point.
That has been the case for the 22-year-old in his debut ISL season. With a 67% conversion ratio, he is ahead of everyone in the league when it comes to converting his chances — a stat even India skipper Sunil Chhetri would love to trade with. He is one of the reasons why Goa are still in the running for the rest of the two playoff spots with 24 points from 17 games.
“Yeah, it’s been great so far. I hope this good run of form continues and I can keep helping the team as much as I can. Those are some stats to be proud of but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’ve only played a few odd minutes so I’ll be looking to get many more in the next few games,” Pandita said.
Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, Pandita might not have returned home. After travelling to Spain in 2014 in search of better training and opportunities at just 16, he honed his skills and joined UD Almeria’s youth side and eventually CD Leganes’s youth team. As for his senior debut, he played 23 matches — 878 minutes — for Lorca FC in the Tercera Division.
But with football and all other sports activities coming to a grinding halt, Pandita could not find a suitable club that would allow him more minutes. He decided to come back to India and ply his trade in the Indian Super League with many clubs including Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan interested in signing him. The Delhi boy eventually chose Goa for two reasons — AFC Champions League and Spanish influence.
“It was tough during the pandemic, but it was the right thing to do. Pandemic did play a big role in me choosing to come back. A lot of things went up in the air with the pandemic. But the FC Goa project, the vision and the professionalism of the club along with the whole Spanish influence made a lot of sense for me,” Pandita told InsideSport.
Fighting for more minutes
At Goa with two Spaniards — Angulo and Jorge Ortiz — having sealed their spots, Pandita struggled for minutes initially apart from injuries that kept him out. All that Coach Juan Ferrando could trust him with a few minutes. But he utilised those minutes well, being effective in those short minutes, making a play for a starting berth that he is yet to be awarded.
“My goal was to put in some good performances and help my club as much as possible. Obviously, as a player, I want to be on the field as much as possible. All I can do is keep training and hope the coach feeds me in more minutes,” Pandita said.
But the striker’s performances and Alexander Jesuraj’s lack of goals have put the Ferrando in a tough spot. He has been tasked with helping him develop into a better player while also lead his team to win. But the Spaniard does not want to put pressure on him just yet.
“I am happy with Ishan and hope the goals help him as motivation to keep working and improving over training. I am glad he is showing he can help the team when playing for some last minutes, especially in crosses and set pieces offensively. But the most important part is now that he keeps working and learning,” Ferrando said.
While playing in Spain has helped Ishan get settled in the team quickly, he is still young and Ferrando believes he still has a lot to learn before he is given the responsibility in the attack. If Pandita, who is aiming to find a place in the national team when India play the rest of the World Cup 2022 qualifiers, continues to impress, he might as well get a chance in the AFC Champions League — a tournament that will help him learn and grow.
“We are both talking daily and agree he has still to improve in a lot of different aspects. Football is not just about cross positioning but also about building game, occupy spaces and among all to occupy spaces when pressing,” Ferrando reasoned.
“Ishan is improving and working hard on it, as other young players are. Training by training we will see his improvement and decide if he can have more time on the pitch,” he added.