A challenging season

Football

A challenging season
A year ago, when the former assistant coach of Barcelona, Albert Roca, took over the reins at Bengaluru FC, a lot was expected from him. BFC were the reigning I-League champions, were deep into the knock-out phase of the AFC Cup and had set a benchmark in Indian football with their professional approach. Moreover, the new man had to fill the huge shoes of Ashley Westwood, a man who who was synonyms with the club.

“It was a challenge,” admits Roca. “It was difficult to come here. The bar was set very high. The team was doing good, and I was expected to continue doing the same. I wanted to win too. But maybe have another kind of style in playing football. For me it’s not about just winning, it’s also about the way we play. I knew that having another kind of style will perhaps give us more joy.”

Now with a season done, where his side became the first Indian team to reach the final of the AFC Cup, won the Federation Cup and are still alive in the 2017 edition of the continental competition, Roca sits back and takes a look at the year gone by.


Excerpts:

What are your thoughts on the season gone by?

We did many things right, but we had some problems too. We are happy because that is life, it never goes as good as we want but never so bad. When we came here, the goal was very big because the bar was set very high. It was not easy to start with a new philosophy or project. We started well with the AFC Cup, achieving a thing that no one has done before. After that we had to make changes. We didn’t have much time to do all that and prepare as well as we wanted.

The team responded very well. We are working as we did from the first day. But the results in football are sometimes not at the same level as you want it. Sometimes it’s like, we are doing everything and (waves his hand). But if you keep working, things happen. This is what we are so happy about.
You are trying to bringing in a new philosophy into the side...

I come from Spain and from a team (Barcelona) that treats the ball in a special way. And to be honest, I feel Indian football should follow this style. In Spain, we are not the strongest or biggest people in Europe. The Germans, the Dutch, English, French are faster and stronger. So we thought about this a long time ago, and decided that the way to succeed was to have another style. Because of this, Spain is on top of world football. It’s because we understood that success was not related to physicality but tactics. That’s what I have tried to bring here from the first moment.


For a team that was not used to retaining the ball for long, how much of coaching went into imbibing your philosophy into this side?

It’s simple for me, you have to know what you want. Not just you but the players. Everyone is involved and we have to just pay attention. In football, there are four moments. One is attack organisation, like what Barcelona does when they have their whole team pushed up. Second one is defensive organisation. Then transitions, both defensive and offensive or counter attack. These are the four periods in any game.

These four aspects are what we focus on in each training session. Sometimes we are going more for attack and other days defence. Sometimes we go mixed where we go attack and then to know how to play during defensive transitions. To win the ball back, we need to know how, when, which players. Everything. It’s all related to tactics and not about any other thing.


For long we have heard professional players in India lack basics. Do you agree?

Sure. Completely. I think we have to go back to the roots. When I see a coach putting four cones and ask a kid to dribble past these cones and to shoot there, I don’t know what is he expecting. There’s no decision-making there. Football is all about decisions you make. You have to pick the right one in defence and attack. And it is related to one another. Just to hit goal and try to score, that is not related to the reality. Those coaches or philosophies that teaches only technique — you dribble and shoot — this is not that important.

You have to drift away from two guys and score. You have to make a decision if that guy comes to you quickly, perhaps you have to take a few steps back. But if he is waiting for you, then maybe you have to pass. It’s about decisions. I always put examples of (Andrés) Iniesta and Xavi (Xavier Hernández). Do you think they spent a lot of time in the gym? Their life has always been on the pitch, doing the things I just said. Play football and doing this and that related to the game.

Talking about the season, mid-way through the league we saw you change from a back-four to a back-three in defence...

Systems are important. But what I said before is more important because then you can build any system. We switched because there was a need. The opposition was taken into the accounts, the guys we had were taken into account and many more things. Our intention is to build from behind whether it’s with three or four defenders.


Another change we saw in this side was the start-stop press that it adopted...

Well, that’s not what I want. I want from the boys to press always, something like what Barcelona does. But then you realise you don’t have the people for that. It cost me a lot to change the mentality of some players. We have had fights over that. It’s not easy. We were at a point that we had to defend well because we didn’t have enough good players to score enough goals. So we had to strike a balance. For me it was also about adapting to the circumstances. But I won’t change my philosophy.


Is it possible to press always in Indian conditions?

Those are things we need to adjust to because sometimes it’s not about what you want but about what you can make. It’s easy for people to think that a former Barcelona assistant coach would come in and in five months he will change the way the team plays. I say, come on!!

That’s not how football works. You really think I can change (Salam) Ranjan’s technique in five months? I say that’s not possible in even 50 or 60 years. Because you can change that when you are 7 or 8 not when you are a professional player. At this level all I can do is change things tactically and make full use of the qualities the player has, and hope that we get the result we desire.


The foreign strikers, Roby Norales and Marijan Jugovic, didn’t live up to the expectations. Why not show more faith in the Indians?

When we have the option to choose in which position you want the foreigners, you are thinking in that strike position because we all know how important it is to score goals. I would like him to be Indian but it’s not that easy.

Good foreigners always make a difference. Not just in India but everywhere. For Indians, they had more opportunities. Some of them really did well and I’m happy for that as well. Daniel (Lalhlimpuia) has played more than what he is used to in the past. (CK) Vineeth also perhaps and Len (Seminlen Doungel) towards the end.

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