The arrival of these coaches from foreign lands has vastly influenced the playing style and philosophy of Indian football over the years.
In its early years, Indian football had a very fixated mindset of appointing from within the system. Teams preferred domestic coaches & players in the pre and immediate post-independent eras. However, noticing a need for change, the Indian national team appointed Englishman Harry Wright as its manager in 1963. Wright was hence the first-ever foreign coach managing an Indian side.
Since then, the Indian football fraternity has encouraged foreign coaches. Over the years, many of them have plied their trade in India. What started with the national team soon transitioned in the top clubs also doing the same. This, in turn led to the introduction of a variety of different playing styles and philosophies into the Indian football genes.
While hundreds of foreign tacticians have plied their trade in India, only a handful have achieved a lasting impact and managed true success. Today, Khel Now takes a look at the most successful foreign coaches in Indian Football history.
5. Ashley Westwood
Ashley Westwood had a very intimidating job of taking control of a Bengaluru FC team who trusted him to take them forward after their formation in 2013. As part of their ambitious project, the Blues appointed the veteran Englishman, who had enjoyed a long playing career before deciding to ply his trade in management. However, Westwood surprised many with his work at BFC – turning them into a hard nut to crack with his intelligent tactics.
The Blues won the I-League in their first-ever season (2013-14) under him – making the Englishman the youngest coach to win the competition. In the 2014-15 season, Bengaluru lost out on the I-League race, but won the Federation Cup, before winning the league once again in the 2015-16 season. He left BFC after a dispute with the management and eventually joined up with ATK in 2018 – having a bitter stint as the interim manager and technical director of the club.
Westwood’s incredible impact in his short stint as well as how BFC dominated the Indian football scene under him makes him one of the best to ever grace the domestic gaame.
4. Karim Bencherifa
Bencherifa is one of the foreign coaches most familiar with Indian football in the past two decades. He first arrived in India as the head coach of Churchill Brothers in 2006. He coached them for two years, before shifting base to Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan.
With the Mariners, he won his first major trophy in India as they lifted the Calcutta Football League (CFL) title in 2008. He went on to coach them in back-to-back I-League seasons, after which he returned to Goan football with Salgaocar FC.
It was at Salgaocar that he won his first and only I-League title till date, in the 2010-11 season. The 53-year-old also won the Federation Cup with them the same year. In 2012, he went back to Bagan and coached them for two more seasons, before following it up with a short stint at Pune FC.
Karim Bencherifa is currently at Guinea, where he is the head coach of Hafia FC who are at third place in the ongoing 2020-21 season of the Guinean top-flight.
3. Trevor Morgan
The former centre-forward began his coaching career even before he hung up his boots as a player. Trevor Morgan was the assistant coach at Birmingham City and Exeter City, the clubs were spent his twilight years as a football.
The 64-year-old’s first-ever assignment in India was handed to him by East Bengal, who roped him in as their head coach in 2010. Under him, the club finished as runners-up in the 2011-12 I-League and the Federation Cup, before winning the IFA Shield. The same year, he also led them to the Super Cup and the Calcutta Football league titles, making it three trophies for the season.
The next year, the Red & Gold Brigade won the Federation Cup and CFL once again. Morgan also led the team to the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup 2013, before helping them win the CFL for the third time in a row. Stints at Kerala Blasters and FC Pune City followed for the Englishman, but both clubs could not add any new achievements to his kitty.
2. Sergio Lobera
Sergio Lobera has definitely earned his reputation for having had the most impact in terms of influencing his side’s dominance on the pitch. Indeed, the former Barcelona youth product has successfully integrated the possession-based style that can be described as his own version of the ‘tiki taka.’ At FC Goa – whom he helped qualify for the ISL playoffs n all three seasons and also win the league stages of the 2019-20 season – he helped them evolve into a dominant force in the ISL and play the most attractive football among all teams.
He brought a similar revolution at Mumbai City last season – helping them win both the league stages and ISL title In his time at the club, Lobera has had a sizeable impact in improving the general playing style, technical ability of the domestic stars and unearthed some real gems for the national team. As he looks set to stay in India for the foreseeable future, the Spaniard’s reputation is only guaranteed to get better and thereby consolidate his place among the best-ever foreign managers to grace Indian football.
1. Antonio Habas
Antonio Habas was a major coup for ATK in their first-ever season after earning a big reputation for helping Bolivia make it to the Copa America finals in 1997. After a decorated career, the Spaniard arrived in India to try his hand in the ISL. The rest, as they say is history. Habas is the only manager to have won two ISL titles, both with ATK, before they merged with Mohun Bagan. He’s also the only one to make it to three finals, winning twice and losing the one last season against Mumbai City FC.
While his defensive style might be criticized, Habas has made the Kolkata giants a hard nut to crack and ushered in a winning mentality during his stint. Because of his sheer success in the short period in the ISL, Habas maintains his own reputation as one of the best foreign coaches to grace Indian football and is only guaranteed to enjoy more success as he continues his journey with ATK Mohun Bagan.