Carles Cuadrat is a name everyday-hard Bengaluru FC fan remembers by heart. A former Barcelona man and then an imposing coach in Indian football, Cuadrat helped BFC win its first-ever Indian Super League (ISL) title.
Four years later, Cuadrat describes the spell as if it was a few days back.
“When you become (ISL) champion, it’s the best emotion that you can feel,” he tells Sportstar.
“When we played the final against FC Goa and we beat them, it was a fantastic emotion because it was the first time a team was winning the league – the regular league – and just a few days later we won the Championship final.”
Cuadrat was one of the key members of Bengaluru’s coaching staff when the team hit a purple patch in the top flight of Indian football, winning the Federation Cup twice, finishing as runner-up in the I-League (the then first-division) and winning the ISL
“At that moment we were managing a team that fought for titles – it was all about being competitive and making the best plan, getting the points and also winning finals,” Cuadrat said.
“We reached two semifinals there in my two seasons there and we won the ISL the first time. That was a huge achievement at that moment.”
Starting as the assistant coach, under Albert Roca, he eventually became the head coach when the Blues before the 2018=19 season.
‘ ISL is making football better in India’
The Spaniard, who is currently the assistant coach of Danish first-division side FC Midtjylland, also said that the ISL has contributed to the development of Indian football on every level.
“In Bengaluru, we were working in a way that we got the best of the Indian talents and we were helping them to reach the national team and to fight for titles.
“I think that after that period, with the domination of FC Goa, we were the two big teams during my time in competition but afterwards, City Group arrived [Mumbai City FC takeover] and ATK Mohun Bagan and Hyderabad FC also made an impact,” he said.
Other than veterans Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Cuadrat’s Bengaluru FC produced a number of players who went onto become national team regulars, such as Suresh Singh, Rahul Bheke and Udanta Singh.
When India won the SAFF Championship in 2021, beating Nepal 3-0 in the final, two of the three goalscorers were from BFC.
“I remember when I was in Bengaluru, I was watching all the games and sometimes the team was winning 6-0 or 8-1. These are not the kind of games that develop you as a player. To really have to try to give the young talents the right games to really improve as players and I think that they are doing it step-by-step.
“I know that the franchises are investing in youth academies, which is a good thing and that the Super League is going to have a promotion-relegation model. It’s a long road but I think that they are on the right way,” Cuadrat added.
‘ I would love to come back at some point’
Midtjylland – under two former Barcelona man, Cuadrat and ex-La Masia boss Albert Capellas – qualified for the round of 32 in the Europa League, beating Lazio and Feyenoord in the process.
But the 54-year-old’s heart remains in India and he hopes someday, he can come back to the league which he had conquered.
“For us, it was nice to be part of the first Indian team that reached a continental final in 2016 (AFC Cup) and it was great to also be part of the club when we won our first Indian Super League trophy. So why not? It’s something that it can happen in the future, but of course, you never know which is the next step,” he said.
When asked whether he has had offers, he smiles but does not give away names.
“I have had concrete approaches and some options from some clubs every year. But for some reason - sometimes for the timing, sometimes for the project or direction we were not able to agree to proceed,” he said.
“I obviously follow the league constantly and closely as it’s a league close to my heart and I have some great friends and players over there with whom I have worked. I would love to come back at some point with the right project.”
The bad news for Cuadrat, however, will be the fact that his former side has rejuvenated under current head coach Simon Grayson and that door – for his return – will remain shut for some time.
Grayson, having joined the Blues in June last year, won the Durand Cup within three months of his appointment and has guided his side to the ISL 2022-23 final, their first in four years.
The silver lining, though, would be openings in other ISL clubs that have shown the door to their managers.
Odisha FC and NorthEast United FC are already without managers while ISL 2021-22 winner, Hyderabad FC, might become the third one if Manolo Marquez decides not to renew his contract at the club, which ends in May this year.