Foreign coaches in Indian football are given credit for introducing the much-needed professionalism and an upgrade to the tactical playbook since the turn of the century. From Stephen Constantine’s appointment as the national team coach in 2001 to as recent as Scotsman Owen Coyle at Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League in 2019, overseas coaches have made varied impressions during their time here.
Sportstar takes a look at five of the best foreign coaches, who played a key role in taking Indian football forward.
Is he the greatest foreign coach to have graced the shores of this country? The Spaniard’s time at FC Goa saw the team play with plenty of flair and expansive football, giving a glimpse of the famed Tiki-Taka philosophy in the ISL. The football was backed with goals and success; scoring 128 goals in the 60 matches and a Super Cup title .
During his time, the team also made the ISL final and playoffs. However, there were question marks raised towards the team’s perceived lack of defensive nous but Lobera’s philosophy was loosely translated along the lines of ‘if you score three, we will score four’. “Scoring goals are what wins matches and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Lobera in 2018.
In his three seasons at the club, several Indian players – Mandar Dessai, Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes and Lenny Rodrigues -- have raised their level showcasing increased technical ability on the ball.
Lobera was sacked in his third season despite the team being top of the league standings with four games left. He is now likely to write his next chapter in Indian football when he takes charge of the City Football Group’s Mumbai City FC next season.
Westwood set the blueprint for Bengaluru FC’s sustained success at the domestic stage in the last decade. A product of Manchester United’s youth academy from his playing days, Westwood, in his first job as head coach, set about instilling professionalism and rigid work ethics in the club, which would define the club in the years to come.
Westwood set the team up in a 4-3-3 formation while shifting talisman striker Sunil Chhetri to the left forward role. He brought in strong foreign players and blended them with promising domestic players. “If there is a reason for our success, it is Ashley Westwood,” said captain Chhetri , after Bengaluru wrapped up its first league title in the Englishman’s maiden season.
Westwood followed up his first year with a Federation Cup win in the 2014-15 season and a second league crown in 2015-16.
After he left Bengaluru in 2016, he oversaw an unsuccessful stint as the technical director of ISL side ATK, and during that time he also became the interim coach of the side after the sacking of Teddy Sheringham.
Houghton is regarded as the best coach, the Indian national team had in recent times. Under his reign, India won the Nehru Cup, an invitational friendly tournament organised by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), twice. While question marks will be raised on the quality of opponents faced by the Blue Tigers, Houghton was keen to instil a winning mentality in the team. Houghton mostly operated in a 4-4-2 system and identified a core group, which he stuck with for the majority of his tenure.
The Englishman was instrumental in launching the developmental team of ‘Pailan Arrows’, later known as Indian Arrows, a team comprising of U-23 domestic players, to play in the I-League. Houghton was sacked after India lost its three group stage matches in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
Habas will stake his claim to be the most successful coach in ISL history, having led ATK to two titles. Habas’ football hadn’t won many admirers in his first stint in India. His style in his first year at ATK, of setting up his team to primarily stop the opposition from scoring, was not particularly enjoyable. But the club won the title with just five outright wins in 17 matches. He also had a brief spell at FC Pune City in 2016 before being sacked.
In his second stint in 2019-20, ATK scored 39 goals and notched up 12 wins in the 10-team competition. With fast, direct forwards in Roy Krishna and David Williams, Habas’ played to the strengths by setting the team in a 3-5-2 system, which defended from the top. The team’s wins over Bengaluru FC in the semifinal second leg to overturn a 2-0 deficit and the final against Chennaiyin displayed the best of its attacking and defensive prowess this season.
The appointment of Albert Roca, former assistant to Frank Rijkaard at FC Barcelona, Galatasaray and Saudi Arabia, by Bengaluru was the next step in the club’s evolution, which was kick-started by Westwood. It was a mixed start for the Spaniard after he led the Blues to the final of the 2016 AFC Cup final and then was followed by a run of eight-match winless run in 2017 in both domestic and continental stage. The team finished fourth in the I-League and won the Federation Cup in his first full season.
Commenting on the indifferent start to Roca’s time in Bengaluru, Mustafa Ghouse, CEO of JSW Sports (BFC's parent body), said, "We don't put targets in terms of results because you could have the best team and not win."
Roca was known for his tactical flexibility and helped the team realise its full potential in the 2017-18 ISL season when the team comfortably finished top of the table in the league stages. A blip from his time in Bengaluru will be the loss to Chennaiyin in the final but the team continued its trend of claiming honours by winning the 2018 Super Cup. The team also made the inter-zone play-off final in the 2017 AFC Cup.
Roca is set to return to Indian football next season with Hyderabad FC.
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