Igor Angulo: ‘I’m in the best moment of my career’

Mumbai City FC striker Igor Angulo speaks about playing under Des Buckingham, coping with bio-bubble, guiding young players, and more.

Igor Angulo celebrates after scoring against Bengaluru FC. Angulo already has four goals in his kitty after four matches. - ISL/FSDL

After Igor Angulo finished as the India Super League (ISL) Golden Boot winner last season with 14 goals, FC Goa knew clubs would come knocking for his signature. When ISL champion Mumbai City FC reached out to the Spaniard, it was an offer too good to let go.

Angulo has picked up right where he left off last season with four goals and one assist in four matches. He started the campaign with Mumbai against his former club and scored a brace against the Gaurs, which helped them secure a 3-0 victory.

“My main motivation is to win. I am very ambitious and like to improve myself,” said Angulo.

 

Sportstar had a chance to catch up with him ahead of Mumbai City FC’s clash against Jamshedpur FC. He speaks about playing under Des Buckingham, coping with bio-bubble and his eagerness to teach the youngsters in his team.

Q. Thanks for talking to us. Let’s start by talking about your move to Mumbai City FC. You finished as the Golden Boot winner last season with FC Goa but opted to join Mumbai City FC this season. Was it just the exciting prospect of playing for the champions or did anything specific attract you to take up this new challenge?

A. At the end of last season, I waited to see the offers I had in the summer. When Mumbai City called me, I was sure that I wanted to join them. They were the champions last year- won the trophy and the shield. They had a fantastic team and I think a lot of players wanted to join them. Also, Mumbai City will play the AFC Champions League this season. For me, it is a good motivation to play against the best teams in Asia.

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Mumbai’s first match against ATK Mohun Bagan was tipped to be one of the matches of the season but you guys dominated the match and won 5-1. How was the mood inside the camp before the match? Did coach Des Buckingham take any special preparation in terms of tactics or were you asked to approach the match like any other?

We approached the game in the same way as any other. Also for us, the coaches told us that the game was going to be very tough, very tight. But in the first half, we played really good and scored three goals. We could have scored more. The second half started in the same way, they (ATK Mohun Bagan) got a red card and we scored two goals within a few minutes. So everything was very good for us, especially the victory so early in the season. We know that ATK (Mohun Bagan) is going to be there fighting for the title at the end of the season so to beat them as we did was important for us.

As a player, winning the ISL title would be the topmost priority, but the prospect of winning the Golden Boot for a second successive season will surely excite you. This season, we have a lot of top forwards across different clubs like Bart Ogbeche, Javi Hernandez and Roy Krishna. Which forwards from other clubs do you personally like?

There are many good strikers. Last year also there were many good strikers. I won the Golden Boot but it was very tight and I fought a lot for it but it is not my main target. Even last year, a lot of people said my main aim is to win the Golden Boot but that’s not the case at all. In the end, the most important thing for me is to help the team. Last season also, I did it and that’s why I won the Golden Boot. My priority is to help my team win the title and the shield. At the end of the season, a lot of strikers will compete for the Golden Boot. If it is me, that will be better for me but the main aim is to help the team to win.

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We have seen Spanish managers like Antonio Habas and Sergio Lobera have successful coaching stints in the ISL. Even Spanish forwards have done well in the league like Coro for FC Goa, Javi Hernandez who is in great form for Odisha FC and of course, yourself. According to you, what is the x-factor in the Spanish style of football that has made managers and players from the country so successful in the ISL?

When I came here, I saw many players not only in FC Goa but all teams in the ISL. Also, many Spanish coaches are here. I think this is there from the beginning. I think Indian people like the style of play of Spain. In the last few years, the national team of Spain also had a lot of success in the World Cup and the Euro Cup. I think in India we adapt to the culture and the country in a very good way. Many of us have had success here so I hope it will be like this in the future.

You’re 37 now and you must have had to adapt your gameplay over the years accordingly. What is the main aspect you have personally changed about your style of play? How difficult is it to constantly adapt yourself as a footballer to the changing circumstances?

I changed a lot. Of course, now, I am probably not so strong like I was ten-fifteen years ago but the experience is not only important in football, but all jobs in the world. I was faster and stronger when I was younger but my numbers are there. I have scored many goals in the last five to six years. I have scored more than 100 goals. I feel good physically and mentally, I feel clearer in the box. For strikers and even for stoppers I think experience is more important than physical condition and I think I am in the best moment of my career. Even in Poland (during his time with Gornik Zabrze) I won the Golden Boot for two seasons. So, I am happy and hope to continue like this in the season. When I feel I cannot score goals for my team, I will go away very easily. Till then, I have to help my team to win.

What are the differences you’re experiencing as a striker between the playing style of your current coach Des Buckingham and your former FC Goa Juan Ferrando? You’ve started the season well scoring four goals in four matches but did you find any difficulty to adapt to Des’ style initially when he first started training the team?

It is difficult to compare teams and coaches. Right now, I am in Mumbai City. I feel very good here and feel comfortable. About the coaches, both of them are very young, they like to keep the ball but again, it is tough to compare. I think right now, all of us are happy with Des. He is a fantastic coach. Right now the main aim is to improve ourselves and fight for titles at the end of the season.

Igor Angulo taps in a goal against ATK Mohun Bagan. - ISL

 

Mumbai City FC has a lot of promising youngsters like Vikram Singh, Bipin Singh and Apuia. As a senior player in the team, do you feel any responsibility towards guiding the young guns?

At the start of the season, I spoke to the coach about the season. One of my targets was also to teach the youngsters. We have many young players who can improve a lot in the future. As an experienced player, it is not only important what I do on the field but also off the field. So I am always here to teach them and help them make decisions. I think the young players have a very bright future.

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It is a second consecutive ISL inside the bio-bubble. When we spoke with your team-mate Vikram, he said he does not have any issues with it and does not feel any fatigue under the current circumstances. How are you coping with it? Do you think it might impact your game as the season goes deeper?

Actually, we are still in December and we have been just two months inside the bubble but it’s true that towards the end of the season, it is not good mentally. All the bubbles are different. I have seen that the bubble last year in FC Goa with this one is completely different. You don’t have the freedom but we are taken care of well in the Mumbai City bubble. Towards the end of the season, the comforts provided in the bubble can be crucial and the management of Mumbai City knows that and they keep us as comfortable as possible. However, towards the end of the season, if you reach the semifinals and the final, you are mentally tired.

You are there with the team for a long time so there is no time to disconnect. In the FC Goa bubble, we didn’t have open spaces or places to be alone. So it was very tough for us.

We have seen Mumbai City pressing a lot this season under Des Buckingham. Against ATK Mohun Bagan, it looked like you were given the distinct job of cutting the passing lanes. What’s your take on this and how do you think you’ll adapt to this system as the season goes because pressing football does seem to burn players out deep into the season?

Pressing has been an important aspect of our game right from the very beginning and he told me about this at the start of the season when I spoke to the coach. In my experience, it is not only important for scoring goals but pressing high helps the team overall. I think my experience in this will help the team. We have many new players, the coaching staff is new but over time we are going to improve and do even better towards the end of the season.

Mumbai has started well this, winning three and losing one out of the four matches. Your team currently tops the table and things are smooth for now. However, can you tell one or more areas where you feel the team is still lacking and can improve?

Many of us are new to the team. The coach is also new. Sometimes there is a disconnection between team-mates but as I told you, it is difficult in the beginning but over time we are going to improve in this. We have talent enough to challenge for the title. Almost all the players (we are 27), can help the team compete for the title.

Your next match is against Jamshedpur, who are second in the table. If they win, they will go top of the table. How is the mood in the camp ahead of such a tense match, especially given the fact that Jamshedpur is undefeated in the league till now?

Actually, the most important thing is to focus on ourselves. We have a very good team and we can 100 percent win any game in the ISL but of course, Jamshedpur has good a very good squad and they have a fantastic coach from last year. So, he knows the squad and the players. This time also they have some good players like Murray and Pandita who was with me (at FC Goa) last year. It’s going to be tough for us as they are unbeaten till now but if you want to win the title, you have to beat the best teams in the league. So, we are ready for the fight.

What’s your take on VAR and its absence in the ISL? This year we have seen some dodgy decisions being given by referees? Being the top league of the country, do you feel the ISL should introduce VAR from next season?

The referees are human and they also make mistakes like us but the VAR technology gives justice in football. But here (ISL), we don’t have it probably because it is very expensive to manage. In the end, we have to keep going and not complain so much. I have never complained about referees personally and my coach and my team-mates also don’t like to talk about them. However, I hope in the future, the VAR is going to be in the ISL but now, we don’t have it and we don’t need to complain about it.

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