The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) has always struck a special bond with Spanish footballers with a host of them having played in the league over the years.
It all started in the inaugural ISL season in 2014 with the Kolkata-based franchise tying up with Atlético Madrid and subsequently being christened Atlético de Kolkata (ATK). Till date, ATK have had five Spaniards each season plying their trade for them.
FC Goa, on the other hand, used to go all out in favour of blending Brazilian flavour in their squad. With the legendary Zico at the helm for the three seasons so far, the Gaurs – while having played the inaugural season with just one Brazilian – subsequently played the next two with eight in their squad.
However, the 2017-18 ISL edition will see a change in approach from both these teams. With Teddy Sheringham becoming ATK’s third coach in four seasons, the two-time champions haven’t added any Spaniard to their roster – yet.
Having started off without a single Spaniard, FC Goa had only Joffre Mateu Gonzalez in their ranks for the last two seasons. This time around, however, the Gaurs have invested heavily in Spanish players. Largely responsible for that change in approach is of course their new gaffer Sergio Lobera, the former Barcelona youth team and Barcelona C team coach. Born is Zaragoza, the 40-year-old Spaniard has ensured the signings of six fellow nationals in the form of Adrian Colunga, Eduardo Bedia, Ferran Corominas, Manuel Arana, Manuel Lanzarote and Sergio Juste. Of these, Bedia, Juste and Lanzarote are former Barcelona B players themselves, while Corominas is a former player for Espanyol, Barcelona’s local rivals.
Lobera, having also managed UD Las Palmas in the Segunda Division, admitted that while he could not possibly replicate Barcelona’s style of play, he would do his best to incorporate a similar style.
“We won’t play like Barcelona as I’m not Luis Enrique or Pep Guardiola. And neither the players we have are Messi and Iniesta. But it is true that my footballing education does come from the Barca School of thought,” he said in an interview to Spanish magazine Marca after he was announced as FC Goa’s head coach.
Another Spanish coach in the ISL this season is Albert Roca, who was roped in by league debutants Bengaluru FC; and he is not someone unknown to Lobera.
“I do know Albert Roca as we were in Barca together during the time of Frank Rijkard, but I’ve been speaking a lot to Carles Cuadrat (Roca’s assistant),” he revealed. “He gave me great references of football in India and congratulated me for coming on board a great project.”
Lobera has also spoken to fellow Spaniards who have been part of the league, and according to him, the feedback has been encouraging.
“I have been speaking to a few managers as well as some players who have come to India before,” he went on to say. “Although the format is different this year and the ISL is larger, the general perception has been very positive and the league has been fundamental to the growth of football in India. I hope that it can continue to grow.”
The advent of Spanish players in the ISL has definitely played a significant role in improving the quality of football, but it remains to be seen how this approach will eventually work out for FC Goa in the new and revamped season.