Marquez believes Hyderabad FC lost a big opportunity last season, now eyes top-four finish in 2021-22 Hero ISL

Hyderabad FC head coach Manuel Marquez is of the opinion that they lost a big opportunity to win the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) last season. The Telangana-based team finished fifth on the table on the last day of the league stage: all they had to do was beat FC Goa to qualify for the semis, however, it wasn’t to be so and a goalless draw showed them the door.

“…Maybe I should not say this... I think we lost a great chance to win the Hero ISL. In the last game against FC Goa, Ivan Gonzalez saved a goal. Had we scored, we were in the semifinal. One thing is who wins the regular season but in the semifinals, one bad day and you lose. Maybe we would have lost. But this is just ifs. One negative thing was this but all other things are incredible,” Marquez told Deccan Herald.

Be that as it may, Hyderabad FC showed an extraordinary improvement on the previous season which also happened to be their first foray into India’s premier football league. Finishing from 10th to fifth in a matter of a year was no ordinary feat.

Ever since missing out on the semis, Hyderabad FC have had two massive foreign signings in Bartholomew Ogbeche and Edu Garcia – both Hero ISL winners – and by the look of it, they seem ultra-prepared to have a go at the top-four spots. Frankly speaking, anything less than a top-four finish will be considered a failure in the upcoming season. Marquez agrees. “If you compare it to the first season of HFC, it's an improvement. But this is football, now the challenge for us is to reach the top four. I always say the second season is more difficult than the first season. Next Hero ISL we are not a surprise and everyone knows our players. But for me, the continuity after a good season is important. I think 75 percent of the squad will be the same,” he said.

The Spaniard got a big pat on the back last season for bringing out the best particularly in domestic talents. Many Hyderabad FC players went on to debut for India post-season and gave a good account of themselves in national colours.

“There was a moment that was key for the season, for me. In the second game, we played Bengaluru FC. Both Joel Chianese and Lluis Sastre got injured before half time. Fran Sandaza was already injured. So that moment at half time against a big team, the players were looking among themselves. We put Hitesh Sharma and Mohammed Yasir. My famous sentence to players is one normal player with confidence is better than a very good player without. They are not normal players, they are good players. So, if they play with confidence, they have the same level as a foreign player in the Hero ISL. So it is more mental and they have to believe in themselves,” he said.

The 52-year-old added: “For me, Hitesh is someone who understands the game best among Indian midfielders and Yasir has one of the best left feet in the Hero ISL. Asish [Rai] for me is the most improved player last season. Akash Mishra is incredible. Unless suddenly there is another new left-back, he will be the left-back for a long time in the national team. So you have to trust them. I see them in training, so for me it was not a surprise. When Sandaza, Sastre and Chianese were injured at the start of the season and we played with 8-9 Indian guys we felt Indian people wanted us to win the games.”

Marquez, who signed a two-year extension earlier in the year with the 2020-21 season still underway, also praised the team’s highest goalscorer from last season, Aridane Santana -- particularly his role off the field. “Aridane is a good player but for me it was more important how he was outside the field. He was the real leader. We were playing against ATK Mohun Bagan and we lost two points in injury time but he arrived in the dressing room and was telling everyone about how we have one more point. Others may have been disappointed. He always looked at the glass as half full. Everyone loved him, he is a good person,” he said.

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