Ever since the Indian Super League started in India, the beautiful game of football has grown exponentially in the country. Whether it is the massive fan following brought about by the franchises or the training camps set up to train and nurture youth football players, the sport has taken a new turn in the country and became popular among the many other sports in India. In all the ways that this transition has been brought about, Spanish players and managers in the ISL have played a key role in all of this.
Spanish Managers in the ISL – A Bond Forged in Gold?
When the Indian Super League first began in 2014, there was only one Spanish manager in the league – Antonio Lopez Habas of Atletico de Kolkata. He had his countryman Luis Garcia captain the squad. This prolific Spanish winger represented Spain in the 2006 World Cup, who successfully led the team to their maiden Indian Super League title in their very first appearance!
The following season saw ATK bring in five Spanish players to bolster their squad for the 2015 Indian Super League. This time around, they went as far as the semifinal before succumbing to eventual ISL winners Chennaiyin FC. However, the very next year, ATK once again won the ISL – this time with Jose Francisco Molina – former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper-turned-manager.
The success that Atletico de Kolkata found with the Spaniards set a precedent for other Indian Super League teams to follow. In the following seasons, more and more team started to bring in Spanish personnel in the hopes of bolstering their squad.
Others ISL Teams Join the Spanish Fray
By the 2017-18 season of the ISL, clubs like Bengaluru FC and FC Goa were being managed by the likes of Albert Roca and Sergio Lobero. That season saw Roca-led Bangalore maintain a 10-match unbeaten streak while going all the way to the final. It was there that they lost to Chennaiyin FC, who moved on to win their 2nd consecutive ISL title. Similarly, FC Goa too made it as far as the semis.
The very next season, Bangalore won the ISL title – this time, under the leadership of Carles Cuadrat – another Spaniard who replaced Roca. One of the reasons why the ISL winners enjoyed a great deal of success that season was owing to their foreign players’ roster – six of the seven players were from Spain.
By this point in time, a pattern was emerging which saw teams with Spaniards fare comparatively better than the others in the ISL. Even the match odds within online football betting were starting to reflect the same.
The Super League Spanish Influence Grows
In the 2018-19 Indian Super League, 50% of the teams in the competition were managed by Spanish coaches. Antonio Lopez Habas once again led ATK to their third ISL trophy. And as you may have guessed, their foreign players’ list comprised primarily of Spanish players like Mandi, Edu Garcia, and Javi Hernandez.
Fast forward to the current season – 7 of the 11 ISL teams right now are coached by managers hailing from Spain. Among the most notable names that come up here is that of Kibu Vicuna, who led Mohun Bagan to their first I-League title in five years last season, before joining the ISL with Kerala Blasters.
For Indian football, this has been a great blessing in many ways – in the last five years, India has jumped up exponentially in FIFA Rankings, cracking the top 100 for the first time since 1993.