Into his third Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season, ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Juan Ferrando is now just a step away from winning his first silverware in Indian football’s top flight.

The Mariners have qualified for the Hero ISL final for the second time in three seasons. They missed out on winning the Hero ISL title and the League Shield by the finest margins during this period. However, under Ferrando’s helm, there is optimism and hope among the club’s passionate supporters that the team can finally go all the way this time around.

ATK Mohun Bagan haven’t had the best of campaigns despite finishing third in the Hero ISL 2022-23 season, acquiring the least number of points compared to their previous two Hero ISL seasons. The Ferrando-coached side got the better of Odisha FC in the knockouts and then beat last season’s winners Hyderabad FC on penalties in the semi-final to book their ticket to the final.

Now, Bengaluru FC stand in their way of the Hero ISL title. Having reached this far despite a season marred with injuries and inconsistency, Ferrando would be eyeing a perfect end to the season.

Ferrando’s coaching career

At 42 years of age, Ferrando has over 10 years of coaching experience under his belt, having plied his trade in Spain, Moldova, Greece besides India. Ferrando began his managerial career with Spanish side CE Premier in 2009, taking charge of their youth team. He then managed Terrassa Futbol Club and Centre d’Esports Hospitalet for two consecutive seasons. He later joined La Liga club Malaga CF’s reserve side while being part of their coaching staff during the 2012-’13 season.

Ferrando then signed for Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol as an assistant coach and was part of the staff which qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Europa League during the 2013-14 season. Tiraspol finished third in their group, behind Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur and Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala.

He joined Greek club Ergotelis before moving back to Spain, where he managed Cultural Leonesa and Linares Deportivo. He returned back to Greece, joining Volos FC in 2017, a club in the third division. Ferrando helped Volos FC earn promotion for the next two seasons and also guided them to the Greek Super League title during the 2018-19 season.

Ferrando joined FC Goa ahead of the 2020-21 season and led the Gaurs to the semi-final finish during his first season in India. He later won the Durand Cup title in 2021 before moving to ATK Mohun Bagan during the 2021-22 Hero ISL season. The Spaniard guided ATKMB to a semi-final finish that season, eventually losing out to title winners Hyderabad FC.

Ferrando’s Hero ISL journey

Ferrando is no stranger to Indian football, having spent three seasons in India. He joined FC Goa ahead of the Hero ISL 2020-21 season and overtook a new team after many key players left the club including the likes of Hugo Boumous, Ahmed Jahouh and Mourtada Fall, among others.

He oversaw a 15-match unbeaten run that season, a new club record, and guided the Gaurs to the semi-final before they were beaten on penalties by eventual Hero ISL champions Mumbai City FC.

The following season, FC Goa had a poor start to the season. They could only manage seven points from their opening six games before Ferrando decided to jump ship to ATK Mohun Bagan in December 2021.

Under Ferrando, ATK Mohun Bagan went on a 13-game unbeaten run before losing the League Shield to Jamshedpur FC in the final game of the season. They were then beaten by Hyderabad FC over two legs in the semi-final, losing 3-2 on aggregate. The Spaniard has gone one step ahead this season, by leading the club to the Hero ISL final, despite ATKMB losing plenty of key players to injuries during the season.

Tactical approach

Paul Masefield’s analysis: You look at the way that they played the semi-final, it was a little bit more defensive. Not on the front foot and showing a little more respect. I understand why because the stakes were so high for them to try and go through to the final and ensure they did get that final berth. But sometimes you do have to throw caution to the wind. But with Ferrando being able to do that, it showed that their defensive block is so important. They can mix it up. They do have the flair and the ability going forward. But defensively, that’s where they can keep everything sound and solid.

Greatest strength

Paul Masefield’s analysis: For Ferrando, there have been a lot of injuries and chopping and changing. He has got it right at the moment. I guess what has happened is injuries have forced him into playing certain players. Carl McHugh wouldn’t have started, it was Joni Kauko at the beginning of the season. But he’s fallen on McHugh, who has been absolutely fantastic for them. But he still tweaks and tinkers with his team. The best thing he has and the key to their success this season has been the backline. It’s one of the fewest changed backline this season and I think that stability with Vishal Kaith in goal as well has meant that they can get themselves in this position and into the finals. The main key is the defensive solidity with McHugh sitting just in front.

Ferrando has witnessed more highs than lows during his two seasons with ATK Mohun Bagan. The Mariners have always been touted as one of the favourites, but have fallen short in the past couple of seasons. Come the final in Goa on Saturday, Ferrando will hope to end ATK Mohun Bagan's wait for a silverware, the place where it all began for him in India.