Manolo Marquez: If I am the national team coach, I would like more time to prepare for big tournaments

At the  Sportstar Goa Conclave, the head coach of FC Goa spoke about his time at the club and the future of Indian football.

Published : Feb 01, 2024 09:47 IST , Goa - 9 MINS READ

Comfort zone: “I am very comfortable at this kind of club, where the facilities are very good. I would indeed like to have more Goan players on the main team, and let’s see if we can do it in the future,” said Manolo while talking about FC Goa.
Comfort zone: “I am very comfortable at this kind of club, where the facilities are very good. I would indeed like to have more Goan players on the main team, and let’s see if we can do it in the future,” said Manolo while talking about FC Goa. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Comfort zone: “I am very comfortable at this kind of club, where the facilities are very good. I would indeed like to have more Goan players on the main team, and let’s see if we can do it in the future,” said Manolo while talking about FC Goa. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Four years ago, Hyderabad FC had set its course with Albert Roca as its head coach before the Spaniard got a call from FC Barcelona. The club then turned to another Spanish native, Manolo Marquez, who came in and changed the club’s fortunes. In just his second season, he led the  Nizams to the Indian Super League (ISL) title and into another playoff the following year, amid turmoil at the club.

The Catalan has since taken over the reins at FC Goa and is leading the charge for the club’s return to the top of Indian football once again.  Sportstar caught up with Marquez on the sidelines of the  Sportstar Goa Conclave to talk about his time in Hyderabad, the future of Indian football, and more.

What do you make of the current situation at Hyderabad FC with the players and coaching staff leaving the club over lack of payments?

I am very sad about this situation. I had a very good relationship with the owner. We spoke a lot because of the bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic. My feeling is that they didn’t value what went behind all the wins, so how will they know what they are losing?

The problem is that they don’t have the correct people managing the club. We had the most incredible group of players with an incredible atmosphere, which was the key to success. But the kind of problems they have now were there last season as well. We played all of last season without salaries. But that group was committed, and the guys were good; they played well, and we had a very nice season.

I always say that finishing second in the regular season and losing the semifinals of the playoffs on penalties [in 2022–23] was better and more difficult than when we were champions the previous season [2021–22]. I am very sad for the players and the staff because they went more than six months without salaries; I hope they can solve this situation as soon as possible. Because these people and the people of Hyderabad deserve a team in the ISL.

At the end of the third season at Hyderabad FC, you faced difficult circumstances and things ended on a sour note. After that, what prompted you to take up the job at FC Goa?

Out of the three seasons, I don’t want to remember just the last months in Hyderabad and what happened in Kerala in the Super Cup. It was a complete disaster. They didn’t pay the players and the staff, and we had to stay in two different hotels. It was a very bad way to finish three wonderful seasons there.

But if you receive a call from FC Goa and you see the structure of the club, you know it’s a real club. It has a developmental team, a youth team, an Under-15 team, and even one with the kids. I am very comfortable at this kind of club, where the facilities are very good. I would indeed like to have more Goan players on the main team. Let’s see if we can do it in the future.

In the cricket panel, there was talk about how Goans like being laid back and enjoying their simple way of life. Is that culture prevalent among the talent in football?

I think every country is the same. Even in Spain, especially because of the weather, the people in the north are completely different from the people in the south. I worked in the Canary Islands, and it’s sunny all year, similar to Goa. At Las Palmas, the players are very, very good with the ball, but when it comes to practical stuff, they go, ‘Why do we have to do these exercises?’

Here, it’s a little similar. The players are not used to or don’t like working without the ball. Unfortunately, in football, you need to work on both aspects — with and without the ball. In places where the weather is very good, it’s more difficult to work on these aspects. I feel like I have the same problem that I had at Las Palmas.

Foreigners tend to take a liking to Goa and end up moving here. How have you taken to Goa and what have your experiences been like?

Of course, I like it here. It’s the most European part of India. We arrived here during the monsoon. In the second week, I had to be taken to the hospital due to the extreme weather conditions. I felt bad initially, but now I am okay. I am very happy now in Goa. Now we have some days off, so I will explore the place with my staff.

You talked about how players don’t think when it comes to strategising on their own and are very dependent on coaches. How do you go about countering that?

It’s not just a problem in India. The game is changing; it’s very fast. It is played in 20-30 metres with a lot of players, and you have to think and use your brain very fast. If you don’t understand the game, it’s very difficult. If you play with a lot of space, even I can play with my tummy, being 55 years old. But if I know that I will be pressed while receiving the ball, you need to scan all the time, not only when you have the ball because you have players all around you. This is called understanding the game. Football is not just about playing with the ball; it’s about more things. I tell a lot of players at the top level that they can still improve by being professionals.

FC Goa has been wanting to bring through local players through the youth system and into the first team. How important is it for you as a coach to stick to this ideology at the club?

It’s difficult for me to speak about it because it’s only my fourth year in India. I had a similar problem for three years [at Hyderabad] but worse because nobody played football in Hyderabad. I know in the 50s or 60s there was one team, Hyderabad Police, they won the championships and had a lot of players in the national team then. But after 40-50 years, football practically didn’t exist there.

It’s not the same in Goa. The structure here is completely different and the structure is good compared to my former experience. But I have the feeling, not only at FC Goa and not only the most parts of India, we are losing some important parts. We speak about development, development and development. Development is not about the ISL, we have to improve in the grasroots. The sentence is easy but to do these things is very difficult and takes time. But obviously, there is a big space for football in India, not in the next 5-10 years but will take more time.

You come from Catalonia, where there is a lot of emphasis on youth development, most famously FC Barcelona’s La Masia academy. Can you give us an idea of what is essential in fixing the grassroots system and take things forward?

The money is in the highest categories. But the best coaches have to be in the academies. This is the moment when the kid has to start learning football. There is a process in some countries. Our assistant coach and former national team player, Gourmangi Singh, started to play football at 14 or 15, which is incredible. I am from a country where football is another kind of religion. You play football from the first moment when you have a memory. The first gift is a ball. You have to play football as soon as possible. First alone, then learn to play with teammates, and finally with opponents. That is a long process. That is the reason the best coaches should be with the kids.

It’s not about only coaching, it’s about education, being the second father and everything. Especially, you need to show how they can understand the game. If you are a kid, you try to dribble past the opponent or shoot the ball and if you lsoe the ball, the coach and the parents are shouting ‘why you shoot the ball or pass the ball? This is the moment, they can dribble and lose the ball because that is the correct process. The player will then understand, ‘I will lose the ball, maybe next time, I will choose the correct option.’ This big process takes time.

We keep speaking of when India arrives at the World Cup. That is the last part of the chain. You have to start with the development of the players and how it is done. Development is only a word. What is important is how it is done.

With Indian football, the larger conversation is always about when will India qualify for the World Cup. As someone who knows about the reality up close, how frustrating is it for you? Even with the Asian Cup, the expectations are set at qualifying for the knockouts. Do you think Igor Stimac could have benefitted from more time in preparation before the Asian Cup?

We can speak for 100 hours, but the problem is always the same. We are speaking about this moment, and we have to stand still in this moment. In this moment, India won’t qualify for the next World Cup, even with nine slots for the next edition. I would like to be wrong about this.

We lost only 0-2 to Australia; we had a good first half, and then we lost 0-3 to Uzbekistan, and now everything is bad. It’s not like this. I repeat, it’s a long process, starting with the grassroots. It’s the same story with Qatar. When they got the World Cup hosting rights, they played Copa America matches in Europe, and then they were okay [for the 2022 World Cup]. In 2002, South Korea finished fourth because they put the national team together in a camp for six months before the World Cup with a lot of strong games.

And India has to start one day. I know people talk about development, but they are more worried about organisation than development. I think development is more important. Of course, you need kids, but you also need coaches who know what they have to explain to the kids at every moment. You have to show up at every moment across ages six, nine, and 14.

We can speak about a lot of things, like the World Cup and the Asian Cup, but the problem is not these competitions. The problem is that you still don’t have the correct structure to arrive at this level.

Stimac spoke about wanting more time in training ahead of the Asian Cup. Otherwise, he can’t take responsibility for the results. How do you view his situation?

The organisation in India is something that can be improved. For example, on January 22, we play Odisha in the Super Cup, but after that, we don’t know when our next game will be. If we win, we play [the knockouts] on the 25th.

I completely understand Igor Stimac. If I am the national team coach, I would like more time. I am sure Igor completely understands that the ISL coaches want to have the players for the maximum time possible. We need to know, for example, when the 2024–25 season starts and how the season is structured as to when the Durand Cup, ISL, and Super Cup are scheduled. But I understand things in India don’t work this way because, at the last moment, some teams will say they cannot play the competition.

For example, in the Durand Cup, Army teams and some teams from the I-League cannot play in the competition. It’s a similar case with the Super Cup, and finally only five teams from the I-League decided to play this year.

If you don’t have the right planning, it’s difficult for the national team coach and ISL coaches to know when we have the second leg of the ISL matches. But obviously, people are interested in other things.

Will the ISL benefit from moving to a Conference system like the USA?

I prefer to play all the teams in the country as we do now. Yes, the distance is big. If you are in Goa or Hyderabad, you are more or less close to every team in the country. But if we have to go from Goa to Jamshedpur through Ranchi and take a three-hour bus ride, it is difficult. Or you have to go to Kolkata and then take a train to Jamshedpur, which is difficult. I prefer this to half-and-half. India needs more teams. One competition with 12 teams is not enough.

I worked in Croatia, which is a very small country. There are 10 teams, but you play four rounds. You have to travel to Zagreb eight times, which can be boring. Here, the flights are long, but you can go two days before. But this is not the problem; it is about how to organise in every state.

There are states where football is very good, but in some states, it isn’t. I will give you an anecdote. Two days after we were the champions of the ISL with Hyderabad FC, I was wearing a polo shirt with the logo of the club. One person asked me what the logo was, and I said ‘Hyderabad FC’, and they replied, ‘But which sport?’

And it made me realise that India is very big, and there should be space not only for cricket. I think there would have to be space for more sports in India.

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