Spaniard Sergio Lobera returns to the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) after a brief period out of the league as the head coach of Odisha FC

Having made his first entry into Indian football with FC Goa in the 2017-18 season, Lobera spent three seasons with the Gaurs and guided them to their first-ever silverware with the League Winners' Shield. In the season thereafter, the 46-year-old vyed for a new challenge and found himself at another coastal side Mumbai City FC. 

In his only season with the Islanders, the Spaniard was able to do the unthinkable – win the Hero ISL title as well as the League Winners’ Shield. This led to Mumbai City FC becoming the first club to win the Hero ISL double and till date remains the only club to do so. 

In hindsight, Lobera won everything there was to win with Mumbai City FC and also earned them a spot in the AFC Champions League as they became only the second Hero ISL side to reach the continental competition. Yet, the former FC Barcelona youth coach has taken the bold step to embrace new frontiers with an Odisha FC side that recently won their first-ever silverware – the Hero Super Cup.

“For many, it may be difficult to understand why, after winning everything, I returned to India, but for me, it’s the feeling, the connection, the happiness to do my job in the best way possible. After the meeting (with Odisha FC), I felt this is the place I want to work,” he said in an interaction with the Times of India.   

“It’s a risk, but football and life itself is a risk. I will be very happy if I achieve something important at Odisha FC. I know the challenges, I know the difficulties. We need to be happy working in the best way possible and hopefully compete against the top teams, in the medium or long term. I have accepted the challenge,” he added.

The head coach has spent four full seasons in the Hero ISL and has guided each of his teams to a top three finish in each and every season. Renowned for his attacking philosophy, Lobera has bore fruition in the league with his two former teams. Welcoming a fresh challenge at the Bhubaneswar-based club, he will look to implement an advanced and an enhanced approach to challenge for the top honours.

“We need to be honest and say it’s not easy. It’s a difficult situation, a big challenge. It’s difficult to repeat feats like winning the Shield and trophy in one year. Teams like Mohun Bagan Super Giant, Mumbai City FC, FC Goa, they are all favourites; then there’s Kerala Blasters FC, Bengaluru FC, all of whom are doing an amazing job. Odisha FC last won the Hero Super Cup and hopefully we can now build a very good team with players having a winning mentality,” he expressed.

To hit the ground running right away, Lobera has chosen to bring back the band of players with whom he has previously worked with and won honours. The likes of Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh, Amey Ranawade, and Lenny Rodrigues have all joined forces with their former boss and are accustomed to the Spaniard’s playing style.

“When you have some players who have worked with me in the past, it’s easier to implement my style of play, my ideas, my philosophy about football. If all the players are new, it’s more difficult. When you work with a player who has known me before, they can help the team implement my idea and style of play faster,” Lobera stated.

The two-time Hero ISL champion is not the only head coach making a return to the league. Carles Cuadrat — another Spaniard with FC Barcelona blood who won Bengaluru FC their first-ever Hero ISL title — has taken up the coaching role at East Bengal FC. The return of champion coaches is only bound to make the league grow even stronger and more competitive.

“The return means the competition in the Hero ISL is at a high level. The league and Indian football is growing. The national team, we can see, is making progress, getting important results. If we are returning to India to work, it means there is a very good competition and this competition is only growing with each passing season,” the head coach remarked on the return of former Hero ISL coaches.