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Changing foreigner rule won't make a difference: Edu Bedia

FC Goa's strength has been sticking to their philosophy of possession-based football, says Edu Bedia. Vipin Pawar /SPORTZPICS for ISL

FC Goa are in the middle of a right proper overhaul. Ahmed Jahouh, Mandar Rao Dessai, Mourtada Fall, and Jackichand Singh are all on their way out, the core of one of the ISL's most consistent teams is dissolving over a summer. Their coach for three years, Sergio Lobera, was let go just before the end of the league stages last season. Clifford Miranda, temporary head coach, and previously a member of Lobera's coaching staff, has been replaced with a newcomer, Juan Ferrando.

It is against this backdrop that Edu Bedia signing a contract extension until 2022 takes on material importance. It makes him a vital cog of the rebuild -- the player that will link the successful sides of Lobera with what is to come.

Bedia is not fazed. His reasoning for not worrying is that they had done well to retain the core for so long in an age where teams overhaul squads annually and it was inevitable that a change would come soon. "It's our turn now," he shrugs.

His presence takes on even more meaning considering the rule change that will define Indian football in the near future -- the 3+1 rule (a maximum of three non-Asian foreigners and one Asian foreigner in the playing XI; compliant with the AFC's rule for continental competition). It will make him the key player Ferrando will look to build the new team around, his general on the pitch.

As much as he looks forward to the challenge, though, Bedia does not feel this is a rule change for the good.

"This will be [just] the seventh season of the ISL, it's basically a brand-new competition. So, I think it's a bit too early to change the rule to 3+1," he says. "The foreign players and coaches don't only give you that gap in terms of quality; they also improve the level of competition, helping Indian players improve technically and tactically," he says. "We shouldn't rush on this, we must take it step-by-step."

His assessment of the current scenario is blunt and to the point. "There is a lot of room for improvement in the ISL. And there's a lot of hard work to be done to take [those] steps forward."

What should be done to enable this, then? "The one main space that needs attention is the base, the grassroots," he says. "We need to be patient. You cannot go out there and expect the league to improve from one year to the other. You have to work from the grassroots, and wait for these kids to graduate into the top levels."

The system in India, he says, is far from ideal. He cites his own example. "I joined a football academy when I was five. At that age itself, I got a tactical, technical education. I learned about positioning, [etc.]," he says. "At FC Goa, I have teammates who joined academies at 14 years old! You have to give a lot of credit to these players for making it to the professional level [despite the late start] but you see the difference? That gap will only close when you establish a tradition [of starting football education at a younger age]. That is what India needs to focus on."

Which is why he believes that "changing the foreigners rule won't make any difference."

He does, though, see signs of encouragement. Especially at his club, where he has seen real progress in his three years, in laying a path from the academy to the senior team. This is a phenomenon, he believes, that will be accelerated by new coach Ferrando.

Bedia had missed a third of last season due to injury, and was consequently mostly a bit-part player when fit for selection, but he appears to have established a connection with the club and his new manager.

While the No.10 spot that he played in for most of the 2018-19 season will be reserved for Hugo Boumous, who was in irresistible form last season, Bedia will look forward to making the No. 6 spot vacated by Jahouh his own. It's the position he prefers, too.

Ferrando and Bedia haven't gotten down to the brass tacks of formational tactics but the midfielder is encouraged by his conversations with his new boss.

"He [Ferrando] shares the same philosophy that the club has," says Bedia. The philosophy of possession-based passing football that attracted Bedia to FC Goa in the first place. "Sticking to this football philosophy of ours has been our strength over the years [and that's what he will do]."

He says that Ferrando is already hard at work -- watching earlier ISL and Champions League games -- and constantly discussing with him different aspects of Indian football.

Bedia is eager to travel back; to start a preseason he hopes will be longer than usual (to allow players to regain full fitness). But with the world still slowly, agonizingly, inching itself out of lockdown, that still looks a way off.

For now, all he can do is keep fit. "It's a very difficult task to be in shape, but with some [stationary] cycling and strength workouts with resistance bands, I think I've achieved that goal," he says. "More than the physical aspect, it has been tough psychologically."

Just being indoors all the time, the air of uncertainty and fear surrounding almost everything these days, it is only natural. He did welcome a newborn during this period, though, and the joy of the baby has helped. "It's the greatest feeling in the world," he says about fatherhood.

As he speaks, it is clear that he is impatient for a return to the football pitch, the lack of action nagging him. For now, he has to be content with the return of the sport to his television -- even if he is not fully happy with it.

"It is very weird," he says about watching La Liga take place behind closed doors. "It is like watching one of our weekly 11 v 11 practice sessions, where there is no pressure and no excitement for either the players or the fans."

"The only thing I'm hoping now," he says with a nervous laugh, "is that when the ISL restarts, we can see stadiums filling up, especially our stadium in Goa."