When the fifth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) kicks off later this year, there will be no South American head coach sitting in the dugouts of the 10 franchises.
There would have been one at FC Pune City in the form of Marcos Paqueta but the Brazilian terminated his contract with the club without taking charge of a single game after getting an offer to become the coach of Brazilian Serie A side Botafogo. He would subsequently be sacked from his position at the Brazilian club after just five games but that is another saga altogether.
When it comes to the ISL, there is no dearth of South American players who have made an appearance in the league over the course of the years. However, when it comes to coaches, South American representation has been at a minimum.
In the four editions of the league which have been conducted so far, only three South Americans have been appointed as the head coach of the various teams. Two among them are downright legends in their own right in the form of Roberto Carlos and Zico.
Carlos took the reins of Delhi Dynamos in the second edition as a player cum manager. He led the team the team to a fourth-place finish in the league stages before his side bowed out in the semi-finals against his compatriot Zico’s FC Goa.
Zico’s two-year tenure at Goa saw the Gaurs make it to the playoffs in 2014 after finishing second in the league stages. They went down to then Atletico de Kolkata (ATK). They then blitzed the league in 2015 with the most number of goals scored and qualified for the playoffs after topping the league stages. They would lose the final, at the hands of Chennaiyin, ensued before the Brazilian departed the club in 2016.
Apart from the two legendary Brazilians, the only other South American coach to manage an ISL club so far has been Cesar Farias who helmed NorthEast United FC in the 2015 edition.
The Venezuelan arrived in India with some impressive pedigree having led the national team to their first-ever victory over Brazil in a friendly in 2008.
Injuries to key players hampered Farias’ campaign with the Guwahati-based club, falling to three defeats in as many matches to start off the season. They did pick up the pace towards the latter half of the season and finished fifth ultimately with 20 points, a finish the franchise has not been able to better in the subsequent two seasons.
European coaches, especially British, continue to rule the roost when it comes to coaches in the ISL with the Spaniards not far behind their English counterparts. This year, it will be the Spaniards who will have the bragging rights over the Englishmen with as many as five coaches taking charge of their respective ISL clubs compared to three from England.
Globally, there has been a steady influx of South American managers in Europe over the past few years with the likes of Marcelo Bielsa, Jorge Sampaoli, Manuel Pellegrini, Tata Martino, Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino all leaving their mark.
Historically, not many South American coaches have dared to venture beyond their own shores but ever since the Argentina-born Helenio Herrera led Inter Milan to two successive European titles in the 1960s, the trend has been generally increasing.
For Indians, European football, especially the Premier League, has remained as the crème de la crème. It is no surprise then, to see British and Spanish managers leading the shortlists of the owners of the various ISL franchises.
The owners have been generally slow to embrace South American talent when it comes to the coaching department with their eyes naturally gravitating towards Europe. This has happened despite the three South American coaches so far doing more than a respectable job for their teams.
Maybe language is a barrier for the South American coach. English is not their strong suit and communication was a challenge for them. Perhaps the ISL franchises felt it was hard for them to implement their ideas effectively because of this issue.
For now, the ISL has shown South American coaches the red card. As South American coaches continue to carve out a name for themselves in global football, perhaps there might be a change in the thinking of the club owners in the near future.