Of competitiveness

Interview

BFC coach Carles Cuadrat has managed to win the ISL title in his very first year as the coach of the team.  DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar

Albert Roca was in attendance that night. Last year, on one such night Bengaluru FC had lost the title to Chennaiyin FC in the final at their home ground. The wounds of that defeat ran deep but at least now, it can start to heal. Roca had been on the touchline that night. He sat further away this time, watching as his friend and former assistant - the man who shared his coaching journey to foreign lands and across oceans - take that one step further. Champions of ISL.

Few eyebrows had been raised when BFC announced they are handing over the managerial reigns to Carles Cuadrat before the start of the season. After all, it made sense to go down the path they had set out on when Cuadrat walked into the club as the assistant to Roca in 2016.

The Barcelona man knew the club, the players knew him. More importantly, they liked him. That showed, perhaps more than before, in the performances. Yes, they could turn it on now and again - the old possession game - when they wanted to, but this season it was more about the fight. No longer wedded to an idea, they won without flair when they had to, scratched and clawed for every ball spurred on by impeccable belief and camaraderie.

In a free-wheeling chat with DH, Cuadrat spoke of the season past, the mentality and some nuances of the game.

Excerpts

You are the ISL champions in your first year as head coach. What are you most happy about this season?

What I received from the players. I have seen from the first day that they believed in me, and did on the pitch what I asked of them. Sometimes when they are not totally in agreement with what I’m asking, they let me know their opinion. For me the players’ opinion is sacred because they are the ones in the middle. So I am proud that I’ve made them participate in the project in a way to add information and wisdom into the things that we are doing. It’s not easy to make rotations with players like Sunil (Chhetri) or Miku because they want to play. To convince them was part of the success. 

There was a shift in the way BFC played this season. You evolved, possession was a bit lower from last season but the team felt more together, smarter in changing moments, controlling emotions and even forced mistakes from oppositions... 

We don’t have to forget that we play to win. The best manager or coach is the one who gets the formula to give the team the best results. If you have the items, you go for that and if you don’t, then you don’t. At the start of the season, I lost three players from the first eleven. John (Johnson), Lenny (Rodrigues) and Subhasish (Bose). You are losing something there and we have to get new pieces in the puzzle to make a competitive team. And, when the team was starting to work, we lost Miku.

If you play any big team in the world without their key player, then you have to be more pragmatic and make decisions to make the team strong in other aspects. We get the team strong with set-pieces, with Sunil and Udanta (Singh) in both wings. I think in the end Sunil is going to hate me because I demand so much defensive work from him that if you see the Super League final, he wasn’t getting a protagonist role in the attack. But for me as a coach, there were times he was helping Nishu (Kumar) get the ball back in complicated situations. It was their combination that stopped Jackichand (Singh) and (Harmanjot) Khabra and Udanta who stopped Brandon Fernandes. Giving different tasks to some players, we became champions. So it was a big challenge for me, trying to play good football but at the same time get points. I think that we have been an example of competitiveness. 

One of the things BFC do is they don’t give up and even play, at times, the other side of football; small fouls, breaking up play, not let opposition build a rhythm...

When you are a football professional, you know a lot of things happen. The smart footballers play with a lot of things in the game. I’m talking of legal things and not something against the spirit of the game. I put things very clean on the table. Juan Mascia for NorthEast (in the semifinal first leg), he was reading the last moments of the game. That’s why he gets the penalty. He was the one pushing Khabra, breaking the offside line, getting him inside and in the last moment Khabra catch him and he is falling down. This is what the referee sees and it’s a penalty.

Is that smart attacking or bad defending?

It’s a combination of both because for Khabra as a player, it’s very difficult to fall down and leave your man free. It looks like you have been stupid by not marking him if he scores. But little details are important. I have been working a lot with the players about controlling emotions during the important part of the game. We have got some important points in the last minutes of the game because they know what I’m demanding at that moment. There was a game in Chennai when I was very angry because we were giving the opponents the opportunity to waste time. I put them in the videos and the players know the plan is to just play because when you are playing, you can get the ball and attack but when the ball is out, the other team can take advantage. It was a lesson for us. In the final if you see, maybe one of the reasons to win was the red card for Ahmed Jahouh. Maybe it was because we have been working, controlling emotions, and this player wasn’t able to control his emotions after Miku’s tackle and the reaction put him out of the game. But you as a player, you can control that. But the few seconds of the decision he has a reaction against Miku and that was punished by the referee.

Let’s talk about your midfield. Can you talk about the rotation and pressing?

The big difference to last season is that the team is more compact. So that has been useful for us because there has not been many players who were able to go out of our pressure. The ones able to make long ball behind our defence are players like Federico Gallego, Jahou... So we have been working to press the players and also have the defensive line push at the same time. That’s why we got players offside a lot of the time. But that’s a lot of work... during pre-season, players like Khabra, Nishu and Rahul (Bheke) were breaking the lines a lot of times but at the end we got it. I’m very proud of the way they played in the final to neutralise Coro. The players have been improving a lot in that kind of defence. 

There were talks of Sunil not scoring enough goals. What is your take on it?

You cannot teach talent, Sunil has it inside. He has scored nine goals. If you have a player who can chip in with 9-10 goals, you can be happy because its difficult to get such players. Sunil scored more goals last season, that’s true. He has created chances to score 20 goals, so it’s just a number. Players like Sunil, Miku, Coro, (Bartholomew) Ogbeche they are giving brilliant performances. They are not 25 any more, they have reached the top of their level. The only player that can still grow... you know who?

Udanta?

Yes

Let’s talk about him...

He is getting good numbers but if he improves his decisions, he can be the next top Indian player. But he has to keep working with that consistency. He has to keep listening to the coaches and understand that we want to help him. Until now he has been doing it. If some moment he thinks ‘you’re wrong and I’m taking some other decision’, that’s the roof for him. I think he is smart and learning.

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Of competitiveness

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