ISL 2018-19: Spaniards in demand but Spanish way not the sure-fire recipe to success

While Spanish coaches have been eternally in demand in the ISL, the more successful of them have adopted a 'non-Spanish' approach...

If there is one nationality which looms large over other in the Indian Super League (ISL) when it comes to both overseas players and coaches, it is that of Spain.

Over the past four seasons, there has been a steady influx of Spaniards in both the coaching and playing roles and it has only increased exponentially in the past year or so.

From only one Spanish coach out of the eight teams in the inaugural edition to three Spaniards in 2017-18, the European giants have definitely made their presence known in the ISL. In the upcoming edition, there will be five Spaniards at the helms of the 10 franchises.

It is not a surprising aspect given Spain’s dominance in the international arena over the past decade along with the Spanish clubs completely monopolizing the Champions League for many years.

Spaniards, quite simply, are in high demand in the ISL. Many of the Spanish coaches who have tried their hands in the ISL so far have brought with them the technical and possession-based game which has become characteristic of the national team and the top La Liga clubs.

However, if one were to look at the most successful Spanish coaches so far in the ISL, it is evident that their approach could not be more different. Antonio Lopes Habas and Jose Francisco Molina are the two Spanish coaches who have so far led their respective teams to the ISL title. Both coaches won the ISL title with the then Ateltico de Kolkata franchise with Habas winning it in 2014 while Molina’s crowning moment came in 2016.

Molina is currently serving as the technical director of Spanish national team.

In the inaugural edition in 2014, Habas’ Atletico de Kolkata were not a free-flowing uber-attacking outlet one would normally associate with the Spanish approach. They instead, were more of a defensively organized team who could absorb the pressure and then hit teams on the counter-attack. They only narrowly managed to sneak their way into the playoffs after an up and down campaign before applying the killer-punch in the knock-out matches. The team relied on a solid defence including the likes of Josemi and Arnab Mondal with the tenacious Borja Fernandez shielding the back four with aplomb.

In 2016, Molina’s ATK relied on a 4-2-3-1 system for the campaign with a double pivot in midfield shielding the back four. That system worked a tactical treat for the Kolkata who started somewhat unconvincingly before gradually becoming a force to be reckoned with in the second half of the campaign. Then too, a solid back four towards the closing stages with Henrique Sereno and Tiri in the heart of the defence was complimented excellently by the double pivot in midfield where the likes Borja Fernandez and Stephen Pearson were instrumental in breaking up the play.

Article continues below

In contrast, coaches who have gone for the ‘Spanish way’ have yet to taste success in the ISL. Last year, Albert Roca with Bengaluru FC, Sergio Lobera with FC Goa and Miguel Angel Portugal with the Delhi Dynamos all adopted a possession-based attacking approach. Roca’s men were trumped by the pragmatic and industrious Chennaiyin FC in the final after blowing away the competition in the league stages. Lobera’s Goa pumped in goals at will but could not buy a clean sheet to save their lives and they too were thwarted by Chennaiyin’s endurance in the playoffs. Portugal’s Delhi were extremely pleasing on the eye but they did not have the results to back up their approach.

The Spanish way will continue to remain in demand for some time in the ISL but as shown by Molina and Habas, it might not be the ultimate recipe for success. It remains to be seen if any of these coaches can buck the trend.