India embracing the Barcelona style of football, says Roca
There can be little debate on the ever-increasing Spanish influence on the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) and Indian football in general. Reigning Hero ISL champions Bengaluru FC are, perhaps, the biggest example of the shift from a more English-based style to a Spanish or more precisely, in their case, a Barcelona one. Needless to say, Bengaluru, possibly the most successful Indian club in recent times, have reaped the benefits of the philosophical switch as well.
The transition started with Albert Roca's appointment as the head coach back in 2016 and has continued with his understudy Carles Cuadrat – who currently helms the Blues. The Barca influence in their game is hardly surprising, considering Roca was an integral part of former Barcelona head coach Frank Rijkaard's coaching staff from 2003 to 2008. Cuadrat, too, shares a deep connection with Barcelona, having played youth football for the Catalan giants.
In a recent interview with the official Barcelona website, Roca spoke about the growing influence of the Barca-way of football in Bengaluru FC and in extension, India. "The Barca philosophy is taking root in India. They (Indian football fans) realise that before English football dominated but now it’s different. They understand that with a more elaborate style of play you can have the same level of success or even more," Roca said.
"In the last three years, Bengaluru have won three trophies - two cups (under Roca) and a Hero ISL title (under Cuadrat). Little by little the Indian players have adapted to our way of playing and as a result, the titles have come and the local fans have been very appreciative," he added.
Asked how different his approach to coaching was at Bengaluru compared to Barcelona, the Spaniard remarked, "The same. We have always based it on tactical periodisation and integrated work. Tactical work has always been the main motor behind what we do with other aspects such as fitness, technique, mental approach built around it. Barcelona is a world in itself; the pressure that exists to win trophies goes beyond everything as it is a global club. Nevertheless, as Bengaluru coach you have the same pressure to win titles – it’s a really well-known club in India, more so now as they have got used to winning trophies."
Talking about the challenges of faithfully translating the famed Barca way of playing football in an emerging nation like India, Roca opined, "We have to adjust and adapt to the quality of the players. At Bengaluru, there were moments when we would build moves with the ball. Even though our style was based on the method and philosophy at Barca, we had to adapt it to the players we had."
The 56-year-old also touched upon how his tryst with India and Bengaluru came about and revealed, "Initially, I was not sure. I didn’t know much about it but I did find out that football in India was on the right track, progressing every year. The Hero ISL had improved a lot in quality with the signings of quality players and it was no longer a question of marketing aimed at fans."
Providing his take on the gradual progress of Indian football over the past few years, Roca stated, "It’s getting more and more organised. The Federation is right on top of things making sure it all goes properly; they want the team to abide by rules so there is financial stability. Furthermore, there are private businesses that want to support football. Nevertheless, the overall structure needs strengthening as does the youth football system. But given the level of organisation and their approach, improvements will come."