Spanish head coach Manolo Marquez has become a familiar face in Indian football after enjoying three successful years as a coach in the Indian Super League (ISL). 

Marquez swapped the yellow of Hyderabad FC for the orange of FC Goa ahead of the 2023-24 season but has largely remained where you expect to see him: at the top end of the table. 

Marquez’s Gaurs have made a flying start to the ISL collecting 16 points from a possible 18 and are among three teams yet to lose a match this season.

The Spaniard has earned a name for himself for making teams play attractive football with impeccable consistency and challenging for top honours on a regular basis. In addition, he has also received plaudits for grooming young players and many players from his Hyderabad FC side have managed to find a place in the Indian national team. 

Marquez sat down with for an exclusive interview where he spoke about his targets at FC Goa, his broader coaching philosophy, his impressions about the ISL and more.

Here are the excerpts: 

FC Goa have made a flying start to your regime. What has gone right for you at your new club so far?

From the beginning till now the team is improving a lot, at least, in the style that we want the team to play. But it's only been six games. It's still very early.

The Durand Cup was a good tournament for us. When the players come to a new place, they need confidence and you get that with good results. We are now done with six games in the ISL and are happy.

A lot of new players joined FC Goa along with you in the summer and if you analyse the incomings, there seems to be a focus on signing players with prior ISL experience. Was that a conscious strategy and what role did you play in the recruitment?

It is an advantage if the player knows the ISL. When I was a champion with Hyderabad FC, our team was a continuity of the previous season's players plus foreigners who had played in ISL before while some had also been champions before.

For me, it's also important for the players to know India as a country. The stadiums are very different, the conditions are very different. the weather is different. The character of players from Goa is very different from those in Hyderabad or Bengal. It’s important to have this knowledge. So, we tried to sign some players with experience in Indian football and we have a very good squad. 

Sandesh Jhingan was one of the standout Indian signings. What were your thoughts about signing him in particular and what does he bring to your team? 

He is a great professional and he is a great defender. People talk about build-up play a lot but we can't forget that usually, the best players in ISL are the strikers of the opponent team. Then you need good defenders. 

We have a great centre-back pairing in Odei (Onaindia) and Sandesh. Sandesh is also obviously a great leader. You see that in the Indian team too. With the amount of top-level football he has played, he has the respect of everyone. 

You have been credited with developing many young players at Hyderabad FC. At FC Goa, you already see a great budding talent in Jay Gupta. What is it that makes you get the best out of young players? 

I love to train B teams more than professional teams because all the players are just one step away and are fighting to arrive on the scene at the top level. With young players, it is easier to train them. We have a lot of examples in India. But it's not only down to me. I am just a part of the chain. 

Jay Gupta was playing in Spain in my city and I spoke to coach Josep Gombau, the former coach of Odisha FC who told me about this player. I watched some videos and I thought that this player was very powerful. He had played for six years in Portugal and Spain and I think he had good qualities to play in India. 

I also feel that people are speaking too much about Jay Gupta. He is very humble and a nice guy. He wants to learn every day. But he is still not on the same level as Subashish Bose or Akash Mishra. Still, he has to learn a lot of things. But, I think he will be a very good player in India. 

What are you aiming to achieve at FC Goa?

FC Goa is one of the biggest teams in India. They have always been fighting for the title, they won the ISL Shield in 2019-20. 

The first target obviously for us this season is to qualify for the playoffs after two seasons. But it is also dangerous to speak before the competition. Every team can say that they want to fight to be the champion. 

We are in a world where if you finish second, it's considered a failure. This is a bad example for the kids. I think failure is when you don't try. 

So, I have always maintained that the target is to arrive in the best condition possible for the next match. So, our target now is Kerala Blasters.

What are the fundamental principles of your coaching philosophy? What are the characteristics that you want to see in a Manolo Marquez team even though your formations and tactics may change?

As a coach, there are certain things that I want to implement but I can't implement everything. 

For example, if I have a team that isn't very good technically, it is difficult to build up from the back. So, in that case, it's better if the goalkeeper kicks it long and we play on the second action. This doesn't mean that we don't want to play football. 

In my first season at Hyderabad FC, we had Ashish Rai and Akash Mishra as full-backs. If with these players you don't attack down the flanks, then you are very bad as a coach as you practically have two bulls on your two flanks. 

In football, you depend on the players. I remember one conversation I had with Pep Guardiola. He told me that you can play very well all along but if that doesn't work, you get the ball to Lionel Messi and he will solve the problem. 

It's the same here. Players like Greg Stewart from Mumbai City FC can decide a game with one action. 

As a coach, you want players who can adapt in different moments of the season. Every game is full of mini-games and you need to manage these situations. I think you have to try to choose the correct thing in every player and then in today's football, it's more important to manage groups than your knowledge as a coach. 

So, I try to be a good person and now with my age, be like a second father to the players. 

How would you summarise your experience in ISL so far? Anything that has surprised you?

When Albert Roca told me about the position at Hyderabad FC, I wasn't sure if I was the correct person in India. 

When I arrived at Dabolim airport in Goa for the ISL inside the bubble, I will never forget the journey from the airport to the hotel for the rest of my life. 

The driver was dribbling dogs, cows, people and cars. I arrived at the hotel very scared. I said to myself what are you doing here. I told the driver that you can be a very good winger because you can dribble past everyone. 

Now, I am here for my fourth season and I can say that one of the best decisions of my life is to come to India because I don't just love football but I love the country, the people who are very kind. I'm very happy in India. I was very very happy in Hyderabad during the three wonderful years and now in Goa, my staff and I are very happy. 

Can you name one player in the ISL that you haven’t coached but would have loved to coach?

I am very happy with the players that I have coached. But if you ask me which is the best Indian player in the ISL, it's Anirudh Thapa. There is another one: Anwar Ali who, in my opinion, can play abroad. 

I think Anirudh Thapa is the most complete. He can play defensive midfielder and also offensive midfielder. He is a very good player. 

Which player that you have coached in ISL do you think can become a coach in the future?

Hitesh Sharma will be a coach. I am not sure what level but he will be a coach as he wants to learn in every situation. At FC Goa, it's still early for me to say who can become a coach but in Hyderabad FC, the clear example is Hitesh Sharma.

Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac said that he would like you to succeed him as the coach of the national team. What do you think about the performance of the Indian team in recent times?

He said so because he is my friend.

I am very happy with the results of the Indian national team. It may sound arrogant but I see a lot of players that I have coached playing in the national team. For me, it's a great feeling. 

The work of Stimac and his staff is very good. In the beginning, he received a lot of criticism. I think India played against a lot of big teams at the time and it's one of the best ways to improve. 

Ten years ago, Kuwait beat India 9-1 and the other day India beat Kuwait. So, the improvement in Indian players is obvious.