“There are times when I still don’t believe it,” he discovers Manolo Marquez (Barcelona, 1968) a week after proclaiming himself champion of the Indian Super League at the controls of Hyderabad. He also did it against all odds, since his team, which took over from Pune City and was founded less than three years ago in the state of Telangana, had the third lowest budget in the category. “Saving distances, it reminds me a bit of what Leicester did in the Premier League,” added the Catalan. “We made an effort to form a good starting 11, have three or four boys who could give the level from the bench and pray that there were not many injured”, he already discovers from Barcelona, where he is debating between continuing in India or accepting one of the proposals that have arisen after triumphing in the Asian country.
“It sounds like a cliché, but one of the secrets of our success is that we managed to form an extraordinary group. All the players get along phenomenally, both on and off the pitch,” reveals Márquez. A “fundamental” good vibe when day to day passes in ‘bubble mode’: “You spend months seeing the same faces, eating the same food… And when the Covid attacks you can’t leave the hotel at all. I think we’ve been the strongest group in the Super League”. Being locked up for months is so hard that the organization itself made online psychologists available to footballers and coaches. “There were footballers who had to leave because they couldn’t take it anymore,” recalls Manolo Márquez, whose team suffered two outbreaks of Covid during the course: “The first time not many players fell, but in the second they did it one after another. To play us After first place in the regular league against Jamshedpur we lost eight players. They made us 0-3, but if we had conceded six goals nothing would have happened either.”
Hyderabad could not finish the regular season in first position, but it managed to prevail in the ‘play-offs’ for the title of the Indian Super League. “The pity is that winning the league gave us access to the Champions League and in the end we qualified for the AFC Cup, which is like the Europa League. At the level of emotion, I liked being able to win the ‘play-offs’, although being Realists we were very lucky. In the semifinals, ATK played much better than us and we took the final to extra time and penalties with a goal in the 88th minute”, admits Manolo Márquez, who thanked the audience for attending the final and longed for their absence during the rest of the championship: “We play for the people and we like them to be in the stands, even if they go against us. It seems that it is not important, but when there is an audience the relationship between the coaches is better. Behind closed doors you hear everything and They hear some nonsense. It’s complicated, but we get to face people with whom we get along really well.”
“In India religion is cricket, but more and better football players are coming out”
To win the first title in the history of Hyderabad, Manolo Márquez had old acquaintances from Spanish football such as Juanan Gonzalezformer Real Madrid Castilla, RCD Deportivo or Recre; Call siverioUD Las Palmas youth squad; John Victorwho played three seasons in Mallorca or the former Alavés, Valladolid or Xerez Bartholomew Ogbechewho finished the season as the top scorer in the Indian Super League. “The foreigners have played a fundamental role. Juanan has been wonderful and Siverio, who arrived as an unknown, has scored seven goals and two of them are already part of the club’s history,” says Manolo Márquez, whose journey in India also stands out for the opportunities he is giving to young locals: “They come to the professional world without much foundation and the nutritional aspect is also very different from what we are used to in Spain, but more and better players are coming out despite the fact that religion it’s still cricket. It takes time, but I think India is going to make a big leap in the next few years.”
Spain in the lead
Eight editions of the Indian Super League have already been played and six have fallen into the hands of Spanish coacheshighly valued in the Asian country. After his feat at the helm of Hyderabad, Manolo Márquez joined a list that already included Antonio López Habas (Atletico de Kolkata and ATK), José Francisco Molina (Atletico de Kolkata), Carles Cuadrat (Bengaluru) and Sergio Lobera ( Mumbai City). Only two foreign coaches have managed to win the championship. This is the case of Marco Materazzi (Chennaiyin) and John Gregory (Chennaiyin).