From Brazilians to Spaniards, FC Goa make the switch

The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) has always struck a special bond with Spanish footballers with a host of them having played in the league over the years.

It allstarted in the inaugural ISL season in 2014 with the Kolkata-based franchisetying up with Atlético Madrid and subsequently being christened Atlético deKolkata (ATK). Till date, ATK have had five Spaniards each season plying theirtrade for them.

FC Goa, onthe other hand, used to go all out in favour of blending Brazilian flavour intheir squad. With the legendary Zico at the helm for the three seasons so far,the Gaurs - while having played the inaugural season with just one Brazilian -subsequently played the next two with eight in their squad.

However, the2017-18 ISL edition will see a change in approach from both these teams. WithTeddy Sheringham becoming ATK’s third coach in four seasons, the two-timechampions haven’t added any Spaniard to their roster - yet.

Havingstarted off without a single Spaniard, FC Goa had only Joffre Mateu Gonzalez intheir ranks for the last two seasons. This time around, however, the Gaurs haveinvested heavily in Spanish players. Largely responsible for that change inapproach is of course their new gaffer Sergio Lobera, the former Barcelonayouth team and Barcelona C team coach. Born is Zaragoza, the 40-year-oldSpaniard has ensured the signings of six fellow nationals in the form of AdrianColunga, Eduardo Bedia, Ferran Corominas, Manuel Arana, Manuel Lanzarote andSergio Juste. Of these, Bedia, Juste and Lanzarote are former Barcelona Bplayers themselves, while Corominas is a former player for Espanyol,Barcelona’s local rivals.

Lobera,having also managed UD Las Palmas in the Segunda Division, admitted that whilehe could not possibly replicate Barcelona’s style of play, he would do his bestto incorporate a similar style.

“We won'tplay like Barcelona as I'm not Luis Enrique or Pep Guardiola. And neither theplayers we have are Messi and Iniesta. But it is true that my footballingeducation does come from the Barca School of thought,” he said in an interviewto Spanish magazine Marca after he was announced as FC Goa’s head coach.

AnotherSpanish coach in the ISL this season is Albert Roca, who was roped in by leaguedebutants Bengaluru FC; and he is not someone unknown to Lobera.

“I do knowAlbert Roca as we were in Barca together during the time of Frank Rijkard, butI've been speaking a lot to Carles Cuadrat (Roca's assistant),” he revealed.“He gave me great references of football in India and congratulated me forcoming on board a great project.”

Lobera hasalso spoken to fellow Spaniards who have been part of the league, and accordingto him, the feedback has been encouraging.

“I have beenspeaking to a few managers as well as some players who have come to Indiabefore,” he went on to say. “Although the format is different this year and theISL is larger, the general perception has been very positive and the league hasbeen fundamental to the growth of football in India. I hope that it cancontinue to grow.”

The adventof Spanish players in the ISL has definitely played a significant role inimproving the quality of football, but it remains to be seen how this approachwill eventually work out for FC Goa in the new and revamped season.

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