Tiki taka is good, but winning is better: Carles Cuadrat

While his peers with a shared history dating back to their Barcelona days have stuck to their philosophies, Carles Cuadrat has chosen pragmatism as his top strategy.

BFC’s quest to become a more rounded opponent has a calculative Carles Cuadrat at the helm.   -  G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

In the summer of 2016 when Bengaluru FC appointed Albert Roca as its head coach, it was a clean break from the club’s past. The then two-time I-League winner had chosen to replace Ashley Westwood’s direct style of football with Roca’s possession-heavy pass-and-move approach honed at Barcelona during his years as a member of Frank Rijkaard’s coaching staff (2003-08).

It triggered other similar appointments elsewhere in the Indian Super League (ISL). Sergio Lobera, a former youth team coach at Barcelona, was hired by FC Goa in 2017 and so was Josep Gombau, another youth coach at the Catalan club, by Delhi Dynamos in 2018 (now Odisha FC).

However, three years since then, where Lobera’s and Gombau’s outfits have remained steadfast to their playing ideals, the BFC of today, under Carles Cuadrat, who was earlier Roca’s assistant and is now into his second season as full-time coach, is a much different entity.

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Cuadrat was with Roca all through, ever since the latter’s Barcelona days, but has not shied away from being more of a pragmatist. The BFC that won the ISL title last year could well play some top combination football but could at the same time hit on the counter and hoof the ball upfield.

“In football we don’t have to get confused about the style,” said Cuadrat on Monday ahead of BFC’s enticing match-up against Gombau’s Odisha. “In the end it is about winning. So you have to be competitive. With the players you have, you should make the best plan.”

“When I was in Saudi Arabia, we played against Argentina. If you wanted to play out from the back, you would have got [thrashed]. So we created a box around [Lionel] Messi with two defenders and two defensive midfielders and it ended 0-0. So it depends on the objectives of the team.”

BFC’s quest to become a more rounded side was clear in its transfer dealings in the summer. To an attack that boasted of Sunil Chhetri and the electric Udanta Singh, it added the pacy teenaged winger Ashique Kuruniyan. To feed killer balls to this potent front-three, Raphael Augusto, the all-action former Chennaiyin FC midfielder, was brought in. Xisco Hernandez, a Spanish pass machine who had started 14 of BFC’s 21 matches last year, is no longer at the club but is instead excelling under Gombau at Odisha.

This shift reflects in the stats too. During the 2017-18 season under Roca, BFC averaged 462 passes per game en route to the final. In the subsequent season under Cuadrat, during which the club claimed the top prize, the average was 424. Lobera's FC Goa, the pass leader in both years, averaged 540 in 2017-18 and 531 in 2018-19. In the current campaign, BFC’s possession numbers have dipped below 50 in four out of six matches. The focus seems more on controlling important phases of play than outright domination of the ball.

“We have been dominating the crucial aspects of the game,” explained Cuadrat. “If you see impartially, you can see that Bengaluru is managing the games well. We have not conceded from set-pieces yet. We have scored from set pieces. We have let in only one goal from open play. We have arrived into the box [at the right moments] and created a lot of chances. So we have been controlling the game well.”

Cuadrat, in fact, said diversity in styles would only make the league better. “I have no problem with teams doing what they have to do [to win games],” he said. “There is nothing like 'I have the flag of Tiki-Taka, I have the flag of Joga Bonito'.. No No. It’s football. Like Leicester City winning the Premier League [2015-16]. When I was in Turkey with Galatasaray the top millionaire clubs were Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas. Who was winning the league? Bursaspor. I think it is very good for football. So I support any different way the game is played.”

In the past three years, Roca, Lobera and to an extent Gombau, may have made their possession style worthy of emulation in Indian football. But as their comrade from Barcelona is showing, a dose of pragmatism has its benefits too.

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