ISL: 'In my view, there are three aspects where Indian football has to improve' : Hyderabad FC's Manolo Marquez
The head coach of ISL side Hyderabad FC, Manolo Marquez had an extensive conversation with The Bridge, read below to know more.
The team at The Bridge had a chance to speak to Indian Super League (ISL) side Hyderabad FC's head coach Manolo Marquez, and he shared his experience in detail on the previous ISL campaign, how he thinks Indian football can improve, and much more.
On his coaching experience in India
Q. You have coached at least 12 clubs in Spain, Croatia, and Thailand before taking over at HFC. How would you rate the footballing culture in India compared to the other places?
It's difficult yet easy to answer at the same time. You have to adapt to every country. For example, in my city, I stay in Barcelona and train in Las-Palmas. The culture is entirely different; Las Palmas is an island with South American people, they are very calm, and Barcelona is a stressful city. It's a big city with four million people. It's different for Croatia and Thailand. In India, it is all the same. You have to adapt to the country, the culture, the players, the qualities of the players, the people, the city, the staff, and others. You cannot expect the country to adapt to you. I think the way we adapted last season was one of the best things last season.
About Hyderabad FC's last ISL season
Q. Hyderabad FC sprung quite a few surprises last season. What do you think was the main factor behind the club's turnaround from the season before that?
Firstly, I do not like to speak about the time I was not here, i.e., 19-20 season. It will be very disrespectful for me to do it. The only thing I can say is that it is always a very difficult first season in the ISL. Just look at East Bengal, for example. They have outstanding players, one of the teams with the best foreigners, but always the first season is very difficult.
About our last season. It was about many things. My explanation might be a long one about it. One of the unique things was the connection between all the people in the club. I am not speaking only about the players and the staff, but everyone thought in the same direction. It's easier when everyone is on the same plane. We had a lot of problems with injuries, especially the foreign players. The young players showed the talent they have. Everyone told me that I am a brave coach that plays young players, but I see every day how these players train. They deserve to play and will be important players for India in the future."
In our second game against Bengaluru, two foreigners got injured in the first half. At half-time, everyone's face was down. Hitesh and Yasir came on for them and surprised everyone. They showed their quality, and I was so happy to see them change the game and; what made me happiest when coach Igor Stimac called six of our players for the national team camps.
Hitesh is one of the best Indian players in understanding how the game is and how you have to conduct the play. Yasir, for me, is one of the best left footers in the ISL. The reason is that players like them, Ashish, Sana and Liston played with confidence. They showed quality because they were determined to show what they can do with the ball.
Importance of full-backs
Q. An important aspect of your gameplay is how your full-backs move in-field if allowed space, almost like how Pep Guardiola's team does it at Manchester City. Is that something that you specifically worked on with Akash and Asish?
For me, football has five things, attack, defense, set pieces, transitions - attack to defense, and defense to attack. If your team knows how to manage all these situations in these moments, they will play as a team. In modern football, the full-backs are very important, and I think we have three quality full-backs. Akash Mishra, Ashish Rai, and Nikhil Poojary. Nikhil can play as a right-back very well. They have a lot of stamina and are very strong.
Ashish Rai, for me, can play six consecutive games, and nothing happens because he is very strong. Akash is also the same; he might need more rest in between the action. Both are very good players. They train well. They are always ready to run, are always prepared for the next action in the game.
Qualities of a modern defender
Q. Staying on the defenders, all of them at HFC are good with their feet and like coming out with the ball. How important of a quality is that for a modern defender to have, in your opinion?
It depends on the style you want to play, and the most important thing is to choose the correct team to play the game. For example, the center-backs Odei and Sana had the ball; all their teammates supported them. If you play with many risks, I ask them to look for a pass, and for that, all the players have to become an option for them. If you can pass the ball and support the receiver, and sometimes stay back if you are all alone. It is what I repeatedly tell my players.
We have to practice different scenarios with different players. The best players are the ones who select the correct option at the right time.
How to improve Indian Players
Q. You struggled all season with injuries and were almost forced to play with 2 or 3 foreigners at times. Do you feel that is the way forward for every side in the ISL if they seriously want to improve their Indian players?
Of course, in every edition of the ISL, Indian players are improving and striving towards becoming better. Even for the friendly games, Igor Stimac called many young players for the camp for the first time in their lives. I think every team has good players, and ISL is helping them grow 100%.
In my view, there are three specialties where we have to improve. First, the gap between the seasons, if you want to go to the top level in Asia, after Japan, South Korea, Iran, Qatar, basically after the top nations. I think India in 8-10 years will be that step. The pandemic stopped the growth. The AIFF wanted to play the next season normally with matches happening in every city, but we might again play in a bio-bubble. The gap between seasons has to reduce, it is more or less seven months now, and we have to change that.
Secondly, we have to improve the work in the academies. There are many good academies in India. I know cricket is the first sport in India. With the ISL, many children want to play football. These children need facilities and quality coaches. The best coaches are the ones who work with children and not with the top players. We have to improve the level of the academies and have more academies in India.
The third thing is nutrition. In modern football, nutrition is essential. The players need to eat the right things, especially in the off-season. So many Indian footballers are so professional when it comes to nutrition, and for me, nutrition is a part of professionalism.
I was speaking to one of my players, whose name obviously I cannot reveal. He told me that he is eating this dish which is very famous in his place. I told him, you cannot eat that every day because you will turn up to training sessions ten kilograms heavier.
These are the three things that we have to improve to make Indian football better. It's not very difficult to change these things. Next season, the gap will be smaller, the nutrition will be better, and I think in the coming years, we will see more academies in football. The process will make not only the ISL better but also the Indian national team.
On him smiling in tough situations
Q. You have an innate ability to smile in the most intense situations and not take yourself too seriously. How important is it for you to divide your job between player management and tactics/strategy? Do you feel a modern-day coach needs to be more a manager than a coach since there are so many professionals in the support staff who can help out with training and strategy on a daily basis?
It is true that I smile a lot. Sometimes it is to simulate that you are nervous, but you are laughing in that moment. With this attitude, you and your team are more connected and calm in a difficult situation. When Sana was sent off against ATK Mohun Bagan in the fourth minute, the players came to the bench in panic mode. I told them to keep calm because we had trained in this scenario before. We had actually trained to play with ten men against eleven in that week. People say our best games were against Chennai for many reasons, but I feel our best game was against ATKMB because we played 86+5 minutes with ten men, and they equalized in the 92nd minute with four of their players in offside positions.
It is difficult to enjoy in difficult situations, but it is crucial to focus and keep calm. We had to control the situation with ten players, and if ATKMB won that game they would have been champions in the regular league.
Every situation is different, but you have to manage the situation depending on every player's character and strengths. Every player is different, and a good environment is very important if you want to succeed throughout the season.
In his debut season in the Indian Super League, Manolo Marquez transformed Hyderabad FC and finished fifth. He would be looking to reinforce his squad to challenge the play-offs in the upcoming Indian Super League season.