Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera has truly been a globetrotter in his career. Hailing from Spain, he has ventured into coaching across three continents - Europe, Africa, and Asia, marking a diverse and successful managerial journey so far.

Currently in his inaugural season with Odisha FC, Lobera previously commanded FC Goa (2017-20) and Mumbai City FC (2020-21). His track record speaks volumes, being the most successful head coach in ISL history. He has clinched the Shield twice, once with each of his former clubs, and also secured the ISL Cup with Mumbai City FC in a single season, a feat unmatched. Lobera has found success in India by implementing an entertaining style of football characterised by attacking and aggressive play. Notably, his coaching journey includes a stint as an assistant coach at FC Barcelona while also previously coaching their youth teams, showcasing his diverse experience.

At Odisha FC, Lobera has left an indelible mark. He led the team to the Kalinga Super Cup final and steered them to the knockout stages of the AFC Cup Inter-Zone Play-off in their debut appearance in the continental competition. Currently fourth in the standings, Odisha FC has secured playoff qualification for the second straight season, a historic achievement for the club. 

Although trailing leaders Mumbai City FC by six points with a game in hand, Odisha FC still has a chance of clinching the Shield. Additionally, their playoff qualification presents an opportunity to vie for the coveted ISL Cup, an accolade yet to be claimed by the team. With Lobera's astute guidance, Odisha FC is well-positioned for success.

He caught up with indiansuperleague.com ahead of their game against Bengaluru FC as he discussed his experience of working in Indian football, his philosophy, the fight for the Shield and more. 


What has brought you back to India?

It is my fifth year working in India. It has been a long time working here. I feel Indian football is growing every day, I think the competition in the league is very serious with very good organisation. And also for me, as a coach, it is amazing to work with Indian players. I have experience in different countries, in Spain, in Asia, in China, in Africa, where my team (Moghreb Tetouan) also played in the CAF Champions League. But here (in India), I feel as a coach it is amazing to work with Indian players because they want to learn. They believe a lot in my idea, my style of play. And I think it is helpful as a coach when you have people who believe in your job and try to implement your idea, your philosophy and style of play.

It is not about winning trophies only. You need to take care of the football (you play). We want to play and enjoy ourselves during the games. I want the people who are watching our games to also enjoy watching it. And also for our supporters, when they are coming to the stadium, they are happy watching how the team is playing, not only the final result. For me, it is amazing to work here in India. It is a very good experience in a personal and professional situation. And I am very happy to be able to work here for a long period.

Odisha is a place where the game is still growing, but the support has been immense. How do you see the fan support in the state? 

Compared to other teams, we might not have a lot of supporters. But for us, it's not only about the numbers of fans but about them being loyal to us in good and difficult moments. I think we are building our stadium. It is not only about the job (we are doing), it’s about the support we are receiving from our supporters, to the people, and from the people who are coming to the stadium. And I am very happy. I am feeling very proud of our supporters and our fanbase. I think our supporters are very loyal to us, and this is very helpful.

How different is the fan culture compared to the time you spent at your previous club?  

In Goa, when you go to the street, practically you can walk more than 100 metres and everyone would want to take pictures with you. Here it is different. There are a lot of people who don't know you as a coach. But I think we are growing as a club. And our supporters are coming in more numbers to the stadium. It is different. It's always difficult to compare with other clubs. But this club is very special for me and I decided to come here because I think it is a good place to work. I as a coach and my staff have very good tools to work in the best ways possible."

Not only foreign players, but Indian players have adapted to your style in India. How much has it helped you? 

My education in football comes from eight years working with FC Barcelona, at Las Palmas FC and then City Football Group. I believe in this kind of football. It is not only about playing beautiful football; it is about trying to win trophies in a professional way. And we need to work to win. I believe in this kind of football to get success. I have shown in different teams that we can get success playing this way. And I think it is more attractive for the supporters as well. I prefer to win one game 4-3 than 1-0 because you want the supporters to enjoy. Sometimes, the result is the most important thing in football, and you can see games without a lot of speculation. Sometimes, you want to change the channel and watch a football game that is interesting. My philosophy, my idea is to try to play attacking football. Try to keep possession. It's very important for me as a coach to have the opportunity to choose the right players to implement this style of play. 

And thanks to God, I have had the opportunity to work in different clubs where I can implement my style of play. When you give the players the tools and confidence to play in this way, when you are behind them even when they make some mistakes, the players enjoy playing this kind of football. This is the most important thing. When the players go to the pitch to enjoy, the people who are watching them also enjoy. But if they feel pressure and go to the pitch to play, it is not the best way. We are playing with this idea, and it is working well.

Youngsters such as Amey Ranawade, Isak Ralte and Puitea have impressed for Odisha FC among others. What has brought out the best out of them?

One of my targets when I came to India was not only to win trophies but to help increase the level of Indian players and provide the national team with more players. In all of the clubs I worked before, in Mumbai City FC, in FC Goa, and now in Odisha FC, we have seen a lot of players going to the national team. To work with young players has been important for me, to help them to grow. But it's not only about the coach, I think it's very important to build a team with a very good mix of experienced players and young players. It’s helpful for me to work with people who I have worked with before because they know very well what I want as a coach. And I think they also help the young players to grow. 

There are two profiles that you need to take care of as a coach, the professional profile and how the player is as a person. When you are building a family, you need to think about both sides. For me, it's very important to have very good players, but also to know very well which kind of players I am signing for my team. Because in football, similar in life, you need to be strong in the difficult moments. When you have very good players with experience in ISL, they can help to grow the level of players, not only the coach.

How do you view Odisha FC’s current season? 

I am very proud of my players. We are living a dream. We need to be honest. Finishing top of the table in a group playing against Mohun Bagan Super Giant, Bashundhara Kings, and Maziya S&RC, reach the Kalinga Super Cup final after getting a tough group and to beat teams like FC Goa and Mumbai City FC (in the semi-final), it is an amazing achievement. You want to win the final, but we reached there. We are fighting for everything in the league with four games remaining, playing against teams like Mohun Bagan SG, Mumbai City FC, and FC Goa, everyone signed for this. 

Whatever happens from now till the end of the season, I will be proud of my players. I think it’s a successful season. We are living a dream and we want our dream to come true. We have this opportunity. It’s in our hands to finish in a better position than the teams above us. We don't need to depend on other results, but ourselves. And we are feeling excitement, not pressure. Maybe for other teams, it is compulsory to finish top of the table and to win the trophy. Odisha FC is growing very fast. It's important for us to enjoy this moment and to enjoy the dream we are living. Hopefully, at the end of the season, we can enjoy winning something with our fans.

How much have you enjoyed the fight for the Shield? 

It's amazing to watch the table and the fight for the Shield and the playoffs. Also, there are a lot of teams involved in the playoffs. It's amazing when you are playing in this league and you have the opportunity to fight for the best position. We need to enjoy this moment. For the supporters, for us, for the people who are involved in the ISL at this moment, it's amazing to have this end of the season battle with a few games remaining.

We have seen you, Owen Coyle, Carles Cuadrat make a return this season. Is this the most competitive season?  

I think it is not only about the coaches. If we are deciding to come back to work in the ISL, it means it is a good league and that we are happy working here. But it's also about the players. Indian players are growing every day. They are increasing their level, and also more foreign players want to come here. This is the most competitive season in my experience after years working in the ISL.

What would it mean to win a trophy with Odisha FC?

When I signed for this club, I told everyone this was the biggest challenge in my career. For me, it would be special to achieve something important with a club like Odisha FC. The club is growing every day, every year. It was a big challenge, but I was ready for it. The players give me the confidence as a coach that I can believe in them. Because they showed everyone in a difficult moment this season when everyone was thinking we were dead in the AFC Cup after losing the first two games. In the big games, they showed their best. I trust my players 200 percent. I am sure in the remaining games, we are going to show everyone we are ready for the challenges ahead.