Spanish coaches, over the past decade, have had an immense impact, on how Indian footballers and clubs have developed. In the nine seasons of the Indian Super League (ISL) so far, clubs managed by Spanish coaches have won the title seven times.
I-League side Inter Kashi, too, has decided to tread the same path, roping in Spaniard Carlos Santamarina, a former youth coach of La Liga side Atletico Madrid.
The team, based in Varanasi, has also entered a partnership with Atletico, with the hope of playing in the ISL to become the first club from Uttar Pradesh (UP) to compete in India’s top division.
“Uttar Pradesh is one of the country’s biggest states. Yet, to date, it didn’t have a big club representing at the national level,” Vinod Dugar, the Kolkata-based entrepreneur who founded the club, told I-League in a recent interaction.
“So, we thought, why not raise a club from UP that will make some impact? Then we zeroed in on Varanasi as the home venue.”
Santamarina has previously worked in India with Jamshedpur [FC] and the Tata Football Academy – one of the country’s best academies – to groom young prospects. At Kashi, however, he will have a fresh challenge at hand.
“This team starts from zero. We started preparations last month and bought players quickly. But the main thing is the academy. We want to start teaching young boys and Indian coaches to grow football in the country,” Santamarina told reporters in a select media interaction.
Punjab FC (formerly known as RoundGlass Punjab) was the first team to enter the ISL through promotion this season. Kashi, starting its football journey in the I-League, will eye a similar path under the Spaniard.
“The team is growing day by day. We are working hard, having double sessions on most days, and playing friendly games,” the Spaniard said.
However, beyond ISL promotion, the team will also look to develop the culture of the sport in the state. Indian international Akash Mishra had previously mentioned that it was difficult for him to develop a career in football in UP. And the club will look to change that eventually.
“We are planning to build an academy in Varanasi as the first step. Atletico Madrid will provide technical support, coaches and all the learnings Inter Kashi needs to become the best academy in Uttar Pradesh,” the coach said.
“When Atletico is here, it is definitely for just one season. In Madrid, our academy starts when the boys are five years old. And they graduate from the academy when they are 21-22. Football is a long-term process.”
He further added that since India was not a football-centric country, work would need to be done to improve the ‘understanding of the game’.
“They are technically good, tactically disciplined and hard workers. All they need is fine-tuning small things because it is small things, which prove to be the difference between winning and losing a game,” he said.
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Kashi opens its I-League campaign against heavyweight Gokulam Kerala FC, which has won the title twice in the last three years.
But it will bank on the experience of ISL-winning goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya and former JFC captain and ISL Shield winner, Peter Hartley to find positive results.
“Yes, we need time, but we’ll try to work hard. We want to achieve our goals, and like (Atletico Madrid manager) Diego Simeone always says, ‘We work day by day and game by game,’,” Santamarina quipped.
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