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Football

'Six years in India': Juanan reflects on 2nd ISL title, explains why he can't get a Hyderabad tattoo

Hyderabad FC's talismanic defender Juanan, one of the longest serving overseas players in the ISL, recounts the nervous moments from this season's final and speaks about his 'Indian adventure'.

Six years in India: Juanan reflects on 2nd ISL title, explains why he cant get a Hyderabad tattoo
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Juanan celebrates at the end of Hyderabad FC's victory in the ISL 2021/22 final (ISL)

By

Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 2022-04-07T11:55:43+05:30

Juanan was a rock in defence as Hyderabad FC stunned everyone to become the ISL 2021/22 champions last month. But as the final vs Kerala Blasters went into the nervous final minutes, the 34-year-old was left to feel the jitters on the bench.

He was soon going to belong to an elite list of players to have won the ISL title twice, but he was going to have to cheer from the sidelines. Down by 0-1 with only a few minutes left on the clock, Hyderabad had sacrificed their defensive rock to shore up their midfield.

"It was the right time to make that change. We had not planned any such substitution, but such situations can always come up in finals. Kerala Blasters were just beginning to lose their physical advantage, and we needed to capitalize by bringing on Khassa Camara, who then began to control the midfield," Juanan told The Bridge, recounting the special day at the Fatorda two weeks ago.

"After Sahil Tavora's equaliser, the belief that we could actually win the final began to grow. Our goalkeeping coach said that if the game went to penalties, Kattimani would be able to win us the game," he described the energy on the bench in those final minutes.

Through the season, the Spaniard recorded 29 tackles, 26 interceptions, and 70 clearances, 32 blocks and 2 assists as Hyderabad conceded the second-lowest number of goals (23). But the no-nonsense defender had another important task this season. He needed to get the best out of his young Indian teammates.

Hyderabad's defensive talisman

Juanan is one of the longest serving overseas players in the ISL, along with his Hyderabad FC teammate Bartholomew Ogbeche. But they were exceptions in a very young team which often found itself punching above its weight this season.

A veteran of Real Madrid Castilla in the Spanish second division and Fortuna Dusseldorf in the German top division among many other clubs in a career spanning three decades now, the Spaniard said he could fit into his role easily because Hyderabad's youngsters were always eager to learn.

"Ogbeche and I have a lot of experience with Indian players because both of us have been in the ISL for so long, we know how to help them. A young Spanish footballer is different from a young Indian footballer because they are trained professionally from a very early age. Indian football is growing, but compared to European players, they are still not used to handling so many situations," he said.

Having moved to India at the age of 28, Juanan has played with some of the best Indian youngsters like Akash Mishra, Mohammad Yasir (HFC) and Ashique Kuruniyan (BFC) over the last few years. He has also been observing how more and more Indian youngsters are moving to foreign leagues, even if they are not getting enough game time.

"Look, playing in a different country and learning a new culture is bound to help a footballer grow his career. How it has become easier to move to a foreign league from India shows the good work that has gone in behind Indian football," he said.

Six years in India

Now entering into his seventh year in India, Juanan has formed a deep connection with the country - even off the football pitch. One of the most prominent tattoos he sports is of a Shiva temple, something that he had got during his time at Bengaluru FC.

"It's been a great adventure! This tattoo is a reminder that I want to keep with me forever of my time in India," said Juanan.

Are there any plans to add a Hyderabad-specific tattoo to his already impressive array?

"No, I have lots of tattoos already. There's no more space," he laughed.

He'll have the ISL winner's medal to remind him of this season anyway.


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