If focused, we can be difficult to beat: Hyderabad FC's Manolo Marquez

Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez believes his side can create history by becoming the first Hero Indian Super League (ISL) to defend their title, if they stay focused throughout the season. Hyderabad FC clinched their first-ever title since inception in just three years by beating Kerala Blasters FC in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout of the Hero ISL 2021-22 final.

Despite the departure of a few key players, HFC have retained their core of their squad from last season while making some fresh additions. The defending Hero ISL champions have begun their title defence in style, sitting top of the standings with two wins and a draw from their three games. Marquez is aware that no side has managed to win the Hero title in back-to-back seasons, but is confident that HFC can achieve that feat.

“I think we are a very competitive team. It's true no team has won the ISL trophy twice in a row because it’s very difficult and teams are on equal level. But I think we can compete (for the trophy). If we are focused in a game, we are a team that can be very difficult to beat,” he was quoted as saying by The Times of India earlier this month.

Since joining Hyderabad FC ahead of the Hero ISL 2020-21 season, Marquez guided the team from the bottom of the table to fifth place, narrowly missing out on a playoff spot. Hyderabad FC were unstoppable the following season, as they clinched the Hero ISL title. They finished second in the standings in Hero ISL 2021-22 and scored the most goals in the league besides conceding just 23, which was the second-best tally.

“Even while on the flight to India, I was asking myself, "are you sure you want to go to India?" Now, this is my third season here and I am very, very happy. Maybe (I took) one of the best decisions in my life,” Marquez recalled.

Hyderabad FC were dethroned by Jamshedpur FC as table toppers in their second-last league fixture last season, and the latter went on win the League Winners Shield in the end. HFC were forced to field a second-string side in that game, with many of their first-team players unavailable due to Covid. However, they finished second and went on to make history by beating ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters in the semi-final and final respectively.

“Sometimes to win or not (in football) is a matter of details,” Marquez said. “I think we had a very good regular season, but at a crucial moment when we could become champions of the Shield, we had a lot of Covid cases. If ATK Mohun Bagan defeated us in the semi-finals, which they could, we would have won nothing. Even in the final, Sahil (Tavora) scored right at the end, and in tiebreaker, the winning goal was scored by Halicharan (Narzary) who was injured from game one.”

Marquez revealed he was approached by few clubs during the summer, but chose to stay with HFC as he felt it was the right move for him in his managerial career.

“Even my friends ask me, "Why do you continue?" It’s not only about titles. Sometimes you feel you are in the correct place in the correct position in the correct moment. For me, it was easy to say yes (to Hyderabad), even though it’s true that some teams tried to call me,” the Spaniard said.

"I don’t know how many years I will be here. For the moment, I am happy. People in my country ask me, if I will come back, I don’t know. You never know,” he added.

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