Over the years, several coaches from Spain have plied their trade in India, changing the outlook of the country’s style of football.
Indian football has evolved leaps and bounds in recent times and a lot of credit goes to the influence brought by the Spanish coaches and players. The Spaniards have been the most successful in India in the recent years and it has also had a positive impact on Indian players as they have become technically more sound than before. Even in their gameplay, the ability to play passes in the build-up have replaced the old fashioned long-ball tactics.
The early seeds of Spanish dominance in Indian shores were sown when Sporting Club de Goa hired a certain Oscar Bruzon back in 2012. Two players from Spain, defender Angel Berlanga and forward Juan Francisco Garcia Pena also followed Bruzon to Sporting. That also meant they were one of the first ones to ply their trade here from Spain. Although Bruzon fared average in his two-year stint at Sporting, the revolution had already begun.
Soon with the advent of Indian Super League, there was a heavy influx of Spanish personnel on Indian shores and till date, they are dominating the footballing scene in India.
We at Khel Now take a look at the five most successful Spanish coaches in Indian football.
5. Fernando Santiago Varela
The 46-year-old did not have the best possible welcome on Indian shores as he left Gokulam after only managing the club for six months back in 2018. However, he returned next season as a head coach of the Malabarians.
He started off with a blast as the Kozhikode-based outfit bagged the Kerala Premier League in their preparations for the much-coveted Durand Cup later.
Varela’s men were a force to reckon with in the Durand Cup and his progressive passing style enhanced the qualities of players like Henry Kisekka, Andre Ettienne and Marcus Joseph. The Malabarians were displayed free-flowing football throughout the tournament and were one of the contenders to clinch the trophy. They also went on to defeat both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in the semi-finals and finals respectively in Kolkata to script history.
Although Gokulam Kerala’s form fizzled away in the I-League, Varela’s free-flowing football helped the outfit win their first major silverware despite being underdogs. The Durand Cup victory will be remembered for years from now on and therefore Varela makes our list ahead of some top names.
4. Sergio Lobera
One of the finest ever coaches to come to Indian shores, Sergio Lobera was young and hungry when he joined FC Goa back in 2017.
The 43-year old was once a youth coach at FC Barcelona and carried a similar ideology from there to India. He changed the outlook of Indian football as the Gaurs would focus mostly on playing intricate passes and opening up spaces with their understanding and wide range of passing abilities. This style of play was extremely eye soothing and also improved the technical abilities of the Indian players.
Moreover, Lobera’s experience of working with youth continued as he showed immense trust in players like Mohammad Nawaz, Seriton Fernandes, Brandon Fernandes, Saviour Gama, etc. His fast-paced passing game-play attracted a lot of fans as he gained major appreciation from the faithful.
Lobera inspired his men to reach the finals in 2018-19 season where they lost out against Bengaluru FC courtesy of a late winner from Rahul Bheke. However, the Gaurs somewhat redeemed themselves by winning the Super Cup that season. Last season, they again played exceptional football and ended the ISL league-phase on top, winning the league-winners’ shield for the first time since it’s introduction and also became the first Indian club to qualify for the AFC Champions League.
Although Lobera was sacked mid-season which came as a shock for many, his contribution towards Indian football as a whole and FC Goa, in particular, cannot be denied. He gave them an identity which the Gaurs must preserve. Further, Khel Now understands Lobera is all set to take up a new challenge at Mumbai City FC from the next season.
3. Carles Cuadrat
The Bengaluru FC head coach came to India as an assistant to Albert Roca back in 2016. He learnt the ropes under Roca’s tutelage and when it was the latter’s turn to bid farewell, Cuadrat stayed and became the head coach of the Blues.
Interestingly, Cuadrat has his similarities with Roca. He did not change the playing style much, looking to continue the legacy which his fellow compatriot built. Moreover, he guided the Blues to their first Indian Super League title in 2019 in his first season at the helm.
His team showed great determination and courage to win the title after losing it out against Chennaiyin back in 2018. They were compact at the back and destructive upfront. It was a collective effort from the players to redeem themselves as Cuadrat started building an empire of his own.
The second season in charge was more challenging as he lost a talisman upfront in Miku Fedor. The club brought in the likes of Deshorn Brown, Manuel Onwu and Kevaughn Frater, however, none of them had a similar impact as that of the Venezuelan.
The Blues defended well, but struggled to score goals. Lack of goals and injury to star midfielder Raphael Augusto made things even tougher for the former champions as they finished third behind Goa and ATK. But their major disappointment came in the AFC Cup where the Blues lost out against Maziya S&RC in the final qualifiers on penalties.
Cuadrat’s time at the Kanteerava as head coach has been hot and cold and considering that he shall stay at the club for another season, the Spaniard will look to correct all wrongs from the last season.
2. Albert Roca
Probably the first Spanish coach who incorporated the intricate passing game-play in India. Before joining Bengaluru FC back in 2017, Albert Roca worked as an assistant to Frank Rijkaard and the duo worked together at Galatasaray and the Saudi Arabia national team.
After managing El Salvador, he joined Bengaluru. His style came as a breath of fresh air for the Indian football fans then. He also guided the Blues to the AFC Cup finals, becoming the first Indian club to achieve that feat. They eventually lost against Iraqi-outfit Air Force Club, but it was a historic moment in Indian football.
He followed his exploits of AFC Cup by clinching the Federation Cup back in the 2016-17 season. Later, the Blues jumped the ship to ISL from I-League and Roca once again guided them to the finals before losing out against a buoyant Chennaiyin FC side.
Roca eventually left at the end of the 2017-18 season but was a revolutionary coach on Indian shores and his love for the people brought him back as he shall be in charge of Hyderabad FC next season. The Nizams are hopeful that Roca can replicate similar feats with them as he managed with Bengaluru FC.
1. Antonio Lopez Habas
The most successful Spanish coach in Indian football, Antonio Habas came to India in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League. The 62-year-old Spaniard was once an assistant to Hristo Stoichkov at South Africa-outfit Mamelodi Sundowns and gathered immense experience on coaching.
Habas, however, has not followed the typical Spanish style of buildup and passing play, as his teams rely more on maintaining their shape and balance and hitting opponents on counter-attacks. He also inspired ATK to the ISL title in it’s debut year back in 2014.
His magic continued as the Kolkata-based outfit made it to the playoffs yet again in 2015. However, they were beaten in the semi-final by eventual champions Chennaiyin FC over two legs with an aggregate of 2-4.
Habas then left the club and joined another ISL outfit FC Pune City but did not have enjoy much success there. Yet, he returned to Indian football and joined ATK again in 2019 and once again brought his unique 3-5-2 formation along with top foreign players like Roy Krishna, David Williams, Agus Garcia etc. History repeated itself and the Kolkata-based outfit bagged their third ISL title last season.
Coaching has taken Habas to different places across the globe and has witnessed different styles of play and the only ideology which he believes is to win every game. His hunger and desperation sometimes lead to pragmatism in his team’s gameplay but at the end of the day, it has made him one of the most consistent and successful coaches in Indian football over the years.
Honourable mentions: Jose Molina, Kibu Vicuna & Josep Gombau.