When Hyderabad FC announced that former Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca would take charge at the helm, the fans went into a tizzy. After all, the Spaniard came in with a proven track record — having led Bengaluru FC to the finals of the AFC Cup as well as the Indian Super League (ISL).
Post the disappointing debut season, the team management felt the need to rebuild from scratch. Roca was brought in with exactly that in mind. The fans expected some quick new signings, something to get excited about. However, then, the coronavirus outbreak happened, and things, at least on the football front, slowed down.
Now, with the new season only about three months away, and pre-season kicking off sometime in September, things are finally taking shape for Hyderabad FC who will look to make a mark in Indian football. For Roca, technically, it's his second shot in the ISL, having missed the trophy by a whisker in his first and only attempt with Bengaluru FC.
The Bridge caught up with the coach to discuss about the challenges faced due to the pandemic, how the club is coping with it, plans about next season and more. Following are excerpts:
Q> Hi coach, hope you are doing well during these distressing times. First question I would like to ask is, how have you been coping with the pandemic?
Roca: Firstly, we’re all trying to stay safe and protect ourselves and our family. Well, every country has its own rules, and we have to follow them. It's just a question of doing things that are necessary to help us not get contagious and, unfortunately, not to spread the virus further. So, it’s all about trying to be careful. It’s also important to be physically active, so I work out a lot at the home and possibly sometimes outside.
Q> Back in March, in an interview, you said, “Hyderabad provided me an interesting challenge — to create a new-look team and be competitive in the ISL.” In terms of player recruitment, what kind of players are you looking to bring in?
Roca: From the team perspective, we have to keep working on building our team. We’re in the process of signing a few more players and getting those who fit in well into our squad which is not easy. I have analyzed more than a hundred players and now we’re close on finalizing the signings as soon as possible. We want to sign not just good and talented players, but those who can work hard, understand the situation, and try to help us be a better team.
Q> How do you think the players will cope... coming on the back of such a long off-season break?
Roca: The long offseason break is not easy for anyone. I understand that India is currently going through a hard phase of the pandemic. This means that it’s not easy for the players as well to maintain a good shape like they normally would’ve. Just like us, even the players want to start the season in the best physical condition as possible, and we have tried to help them as much as possible by sending them workout plans, and constantly staying in touch and monitoring them.
It is very important for them to not join the squad in a bad condition because we know how difficult the season will be in the current circumstances. But I trust the players, and I know that they will do their best, to arrive in the best conditions and then for sure, it will be time to unite and work on our plans to build a strong team.
Q> As of now, which teams do you think will be the most competitive in the ISL next season?
Roca: Well, I don’t think it will change too much. ATK, after a merger with Mohun Bagan, will be one of the top contenders and the team to beat given that they won the title last season and how difficult teams from Kolkata have been in the past. I think they have a sort of a mental boost from winning the title last year. Bengaluru has been consistent and won the title a season before with Carles Cuadrat, and given that they haven’t made that many changes, they will be a team to watch out for.
And then we have the likes of FC Goa who has been dominant last season along with Mumbai City who now has the backing of City Football Group. The thing about ISL is that there’s not much of a difference between the teams. But again, we’re not focused on the other teams, but we’re more focused on Hyderabad FC and the way we want to build our team.
Q> Lastly, you have proven pedigree in India and the expectations this season will no doubt be high. How do you think you can match up to these expectations? What, according to you, would be a realistic target for HFC this season?
Roca: Unfortunately, we start with a not so ideal situation because of a tough first season, and now we are building a new-look team. It takes time to build a strong team but I am sure we can do it. In an ideal situation, we would’ve had that time, but in the current scenario with the pandemic, the schedule isn’t to our convenience. But we cannot complain too much.
Now it’s just a question about looking forward and trying to do our best. I trust in my technical staff and I am confident that together we can do a really good job and we can help the players understand our philosophy quickly. For us, it’s an incredible challenge to be as competitive as we want. We will need to stay positive and confident in the given situation and try to achieve our goals to fight for the playoffs. Last season was a difficult one and now is the time to react. We have to try to do our job step-by-step and try to work towards our goals.