Luis Garcia: Playing in India was a fantastic experience

Luis Garcia holds a special place in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) history. When the former Spain and Liverpool player signed for ATK, then Atletico de Kolkata, leading up to Hero ISL 2014, he became the first marquee player to officially join the Hero ISL. Garcia’s Indian adventure only got better from there on out as he joined forces with the likes of Borja Fernandes, Josemi, Jofre Mateu, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Arnab Mondal and others to lead ATK to the inaugural Hero ISL trophy.

The Spaniard, during a recent session of Let’s Football Live conducted by Anant Tyagi, reminisced about his time in India and illustrated how his time in the sub-continent and the connections he made here still hold a special significance for him, personally and professionally. Singling out the opening game of the season as one of his most cherished moments from his illustrious career, Garcia noted, “It was a fantastic experience, I have to say. The opening match (against Mumbai City FC) was one of the best games that I have played in my career. There were a lot of people in the stadium. All the marquee players from the different clubs were there and it was fantastic, especially because we had our home support as well in Kolkata.”

Having plied his trade in many different countries including England, Greece and Mexico, the La Masia graduate came out of retirement to join up with Antonio Lopez Habas at ATK. Revealing what exactly made him take up the unique challenge, he added, “When I hung up my boots in 2014, I was itching to get back on the pitch. I've never been scared of challenges, so this was another new challenge for me. The chance of playing in India, which had a different culture was very appealing. After a couple days we signed the contract and I was looking forward to join ATK in the pre-season.”

Speaking about playing in the inaugural Hero ISL alongside other notable global footballing personalities like Marco Materazzi, Robert Pires and Joan Capdevila, the Spaniard said, “I have played against most of them while some of them were teammates in the past. But it was fantastic because we visited all the different regions of India, different cultures, and also enjoyed a different style of play because it was very hot and humid in places like Goa, but suddenly you go to the NorthEast and it’s very cold.”

Garcia spent his year in India working with head coach and fellow countryman Antonio Lopez Habas. Habas parted ways with ATK towards the end of the 2015 season but returned to helm the Kolkata-based side during Hero ISL 2019-20 and led them to a record third title. It was also Habas’ second Hero ISL trophy after the 2014 triumph. Commenting on his experience of working with Hero ISL’s most successful head coach of all time, the Spaniard stated, “It’s definitely easier when you can connect with your head coach, because we were trying to get the attention of the coach, along with the Indian players. We had a fantastic connection between the Spanish players as well as with the coach and with the rest of the Indian players, so it was a lot easier (to succeed).”

Having created a strong bond with a lot of the players from the 2014 championship-winning contingent, the striker revealed that the group was all still in touch, six years since the memorable campaign. “We still have our WhatsApp group that says, ‘Kolkatianos’, that means ‘from Kolkata’, and we are all still active in that group which we made back in 2014. We are all in contact,” Garcia claimed with a smile.

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