The Spanish Armada in Hero ISL dugouts
Bringing an attractive and effective style of play to the beautiful game is what Spaniards are renowned for. Their strategy of building attacks from the back with short and crisp passes that involve most of their players instead of resorting to a more direct approach is what’s soothing on the eye. This season, the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) will witness four Spanish coaches at the helm, all brining their distinct Spanish flair to Indian shores.
Former defender Roca to steer newcomers Bengaluru
ISL debutants Bengaluru FC will have former Barcelona and Galatasaray assistant manager Albert Roca as their head coach for the upcoming season. He honed his skills as a footballer in the Segunda Division (second tier in Spanish Football) while also plying his trade in La Liga for a couple of seasons before working under the tutelage of Frank Rijkaard – an attack-minded manager.
The 54-year-old’s experience with attacking football during his apprenticeship with Rijkaard as well as defensive organization which he can draw from his time as a centre-back strikes the perfect balance for Bengaluru. The two-time Hero I-League champions have an aggressive forward line with the likes of India’s all-time top-scorer Sunil Chhetri and pacey winger Udanta Singh, but Roca may also require them to track back and contribute in defence. In the Spaniard, the Blues perhaps have the ideal person in the dugout since he has already lifted the Federation Cup and has an Asian Football Confederation Cup final appearance – the first by any Indian club – with them.
FC Goa place their faith in former Barcelona youth coach
The Gaurs endured a tough season under Zico last year, but this time around they have acquired the services of Spaniard Sergio Lobera Rodriguez. The 40-year-old had been Barcelona’s academy coach for a period of eight years and also worked with the late Tito Vilanova for a month when the latter was Terrassa’s technical director. Lobera will certainly be no stranger to Barcelona’s famous tiki-taka style of play that brought them enormous success. He has changed the complete structure of FC Goa by ensuring the signing of six Spanish players, namely Sergio Juste, Manuel Arana, Manuel Lanzarote, Eduardo Bedia, Ferran Corominas and Adrián Colunga. Juste, Lanzarote and Bedia are former Barcelona B players themselves, thus doing away with the team’s previous layout that relied heavily on Brazilians.
Lions rope in ex-Los Blancos player Portugal
Delhi Dynamos FC will have former Real Madrid midfielder Miguel Angel Portugal in charge for the fourth edition of Hero ISL. Having won the double with Madrid as a player in his debut season, he also went on to manage their ‘B’ team for three years over a two-period spell. The 61-year-old then went on to become Madrid’s technical director before leading Racing de Santander to a 10th-place finish in the 2006-07 La Liga season after being appointed as manager.
Last season, Delhi were at their ruthless best in attack and were labelled the entertainers of Hero ISL 2016. This time around, however, Portugal will have to deal with the void left by their star man and Golden Boot winner Marcelinho. Having said that, his experience in the top flight of La Liga, both as a player and manager, should help him create a strong and cohesive unit by identifying the right players to drive the Lions towards a title-charge.
Pune keep faith in Habas
FC Pune City have retained the services of Antonio Lopez Habas for the upcoming edition. The 60-year-old led Atlético de Kolkata to the inaugural ISL title, but was less successful in his first stint with the Stallions. While a sixth-place finish was certainly not what he had in mind, this time around he can rely on the fact that three players who represented the swashbuckling Dynamos last year, are reuniting under him. This includes last season’s top-scorer Marcelinho, the tireless and nippy winger Keane Lewis as well as fellow Spaniard Marcos Tebar.
Habas, whose teams are known for their defensive solidity, will now have the necessary ammunition in attack to make a real title tilt with Pune. He is the only coach to have stayed on in the ISL across all its editions, which gives him a slight edge in terms of experience over the rest of his counterparts. Even though Pune have never finished among the top four in the league, optimism in the camp will be at an all-time high with players and a coach, who are known for their winning mentality.