Odisha FC’s Lob-era begins: Can the Spaniard work his magic again in ISL?
A winner at FC Goa and Mumbai City FC, Lobera has won four titles in his time in Indian football.
Odisha FC begin their Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 campaign on Saturday when they welcome Chennaiyin FC to the Kalinga stadium. The Kalinga Warriors have generated more talking points than most teams in the build-up to the season thanks to their activity in the transfer market. But their biggest acquisition remains their head coach Sergio Lobera who is one of the most successful coaches to have coached in the league.
A winner at FC Goa and Mumbai City FC, Lobera has won four titles (2 League Shields, one ISL Cup and a Super Cup) in his time in Indian football and his teams have played some of the most entertaining football.
The Spaniard can also be given credit for having a long-lasting impact on clubs that he has worked for as both FC Goa and Mumbai City FC have continued to play an attractive brand of football while also winning trophies.
He joined Odisha FC at the time when the team seemed on the way up having won the Super Cup last year and also qualified for the AFC Cup for the first time in their history.
Lobera’s biggest strength is grooming his team to produce the goods with great consistency. Both FC Goa and Mumbai City FC didn’t slip up too many times under their Spanish head coach who has an ISL winning percentage of 53.2 and a points-per-game ratio of 1.8. He is only bettered by current Islanders head coach Des Buckingham who inherited the Mumbai City FC side coached by Lobera.
Lobera’s metrics have remained strong after a large number of games. He has managed a total of 79 games in the ISL, second only to former ATK FC and Mohun Bagan Super Giant head coach Antonio Habas. The Spaniard has managed 37 more matches in the ISL than Buckingham and therefore his numbers command a lot more credit.
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Doing it in style
The former Barcelona youth coach’s impact goes far beyond the results on the pitch. He has managed to set the foundations for a dominant and possession-based style of play. Lobera’s teams love to have the ball all the time and work their way through the opponent's defences.
In his two Shield-winning seasons in ISL so far, his teams FC Goa and Mumbai City FC ranked top for possessional passes in that respective season. The Gaurs under Lobera in 2019-20 also topped the possession charts while his Mumbai City FC were second only to FC Goa a season later.
Lobera has been handed the tools to replicate his success at Odisha FC with three former players who were part of both the FC Goa and Mumbai City FC sides – Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh and Amey Ranawade – joining him in Bhubaneswar. Amrinder Singh, the captain of the 46-year-old’s double-winning team at Mumbai City FC is already with the Kalinga Warriors. Cy Goddard who was Amrinder’s teammate in Mumbai for that season has also joined Lobera’s army.
The squad has been designed in a way to enable the Spaniard to hit the ground running and deliver success in the immediate future.
“I have some players who worked with me for many years. It’s good to have familiar faces. It’s always better to work with people you have worked with before, it takes less time to adjust,” Lobera said at the ISL Media Day in Kolkata last week.
The 46-year-old though will inherit a strong squad from last season with ISL Golden Boot winner Digeo Mauricio being retained along with youngsters like Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Narender Gahlot and Isaac V. The quality of Odisha FC’s youth would delight Lobera who has been known to improve youngsters and get the best out of them.
The Kalinga Warriors will begin the season with two home games and that will give Lobera the chance to warm up to the fans who will be anticipating something special this season.
Lobera’s glorious past can be a burden for him in the coming season at Odisha FC but with plenty of quality and experience at his disposal, he would back himself to carry on his ISL legacy in Bhubaneswar. Can he weave his magic for a third straight time in the ISL? Indian football awaits the answer with plenty of excitement. The Lob-era is here at Odisha FC.