Sergio Lobera has achieved a superlative level of success as coach in the Indian Super League (ISL). As head coach of Mumbai City FC, he has guided his team to the top position in the current standings, something he had done with FC Goa the previous season.
Lobera has a wealth of coaching experience in leagues around the world in a career spanning nearly 25 years. He has managed clubs in Spain, Morocco and India, and also had a spell as assistant manager of FC Barcelona in 2012. The Spaniard is hailed by the fans of teams he has coached for his ability to inspire them to play attractive football and get wins in good numbers.
Lobera replied to questions from Sportstar on his style of coaching that aims at giving enjoyment to fans.
How’s the involvement of City Football Group (CFG) making a difference to Mumbai City?
I think it is a deal to change the mentality of the club and turn it into a winning team. As a coach, I am delighted to be working with the City Football Group because their support and advice is very helpful for me. I have all the tools that I need to work with. In some clubs, you need to educate people about football because they don’t understand what is necessary for the coach and for the players. But here, with CFG, it is much more productive as they are providing us the best possible conditions.
Would you say the same thing about FC Goa, a club that found a lot of success under your coaching?
I have very good memories of the time I spent with FC Goa. When I arrived, it had finished in the bottom half of the table the previous season. I took it to three playoffs in the ISL and also helped them win the Super Cup. I helped them finish on top of the table and give them an AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Champions League berth. During my tenure, a lot of players made it to the national team, and so I have very good memories from my first assignment in India.
Your style of coaching reflects a lot of influence from your involvement with Barcelona. Would we be right in saying that you are just taking the school of Pep Guardiola ahead in India?
Obviously, if you are working in a great club like Barcelona, your education comes from there. My style and idea about football come from my experience of working for eight years in FC Barcelona, especially with Pep Guardiola. I believe in his style of football that thinks of giving enjoyment to the fans.
I think it is very important to win, but the most important thing is how you are bringing about that win. It is very important for me that people enjoy watching how we play the 90 minutes. The City Football Group also believes in this and we are on the same page when it comes to coaching philosophy.
This is your fourth season in India. What is your opinion about Indian players?
For me, it is a pleasure to work with them. I think of developing the profile of the Indian players completely. I mean, it is not only about their technical, tactical and physical abilities, but also about developing their ambition and motivation as well. It is really possible to improve the Indian players because they have the quality and also the aptitude necessary to develop their level of excellence.
As a coach, my job is to give them the confidence and the tools to help them in making better decisions during the match. I am very happy working with Indian players in the last four seasons. The performance of the Indian players has remained the key to success in the last three seasons. The foreign players alone cannot bring that high level of success.
What essential changes did you try to bring in the grooming process of Indian players?
The most important thing that I felt working with the Indian players was increasing their confidence. It is very important that they believe in themselves because you can be a very good player with good abilities, but if you make a few mistakes and do not receive the support from the coach, then there is a possibility of the player losing confidence. It is important to learn and improve the level of performance according to the style and philosophy of the team, and even more important is having the right mentality to enjoy the game when you go to the stadium. We can make the fans and spectators happy only when we are enjoying our job.
What’s your reading of the system of coaching in India? Do you think the Indian coaches need to be groomed according to the requirements of international standards?
My experience has been quite nice. My assistant coach Tony (Anthony Fernandes) is a very good coach and has enough level. He did a lot of work with the Indian players during the pre-season and quarantine period. People often talk about foreign coaches, but in this situation, I am very thankful to Tony for his help as he contributes a lot to the team, especially when it comes to the Indian players.
Is it necessary to be a good player in order to become a good coach?
It depends on the situation. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not. Maybe when you are playing at a high level, you don’t get the time to educate and train yourself as a coach and work in different categories. Again, when one has the experience as a player, he can become a very good coach. But personally, I don’t think that a very good player always makes a very good coach.
What is your experience of the bio-bubble? Do you think this confinement in the bio-secure atmosphere has brought any changes in the way you see and approach football?
First of all, it is a big challenge to be doing only a brief pre-season and get to work with the full team barely three days prior to the competition. But fortunately, Mumbai City and CFG have put in big efforts to ensure that we get the best possible conditions and have given us a very nice environment. But this is not the situation we look for where we cannot leave the secured environment and interact with other people. We are trying our best to keep the players motivated so that their performance is not affected on the field.
How’s the absence of fans and supporters in the stadium working on the psychology of the players? Are they performing better because there’s no pressure from the stands?
We always feel that our supporters should be close to us. There are the social media platforms where the players and the staff interact with the supporters, but that does not compensate for the absence of fans in the stadium. But we keep the backing of the fans always in our mind when we go to the ground and are always wishing that our fans are back to the stadium very soon.
What are the changes you have brought in your coaching philosophy while working in India considering your experience of working in different countries?
It is not possible to copy-paste everything. You need to adapt to the customs, different profiles of the players and different leagues. You cannot implement in India what you are doing in Spain or in Morocco. You should have the capacity to adapt quickly to different scenarios if you are looking for success.
It is very important to suit your coaching style with the level of the players and the level of the league. We have to assess the circumstances and produce the best for that particular scenario.
What are the changes you brought in while coaching in India?
Every team comes with different challenges according to the situation. There cannot be a generalised answer to it as even in India I have to change my tactics and style every season according to the teams and opponents I have.
Like this year is very challenging as we are adapting to a very different situation brought about by the pandemic. It is not about two or three things I need to change and adapt, it is about looking at the whole scenario and tuning your strategy accordingly.
You have a way of making teams consistently successful. What is the secret behind this?
The key is having very good players and very good staff, and that collectively brings success to the team. A coach alone cannot do much in this respect. As a coach, you need the right support from the players and the staff, and I am fortunate to have the right people to work with and a very good squad that translates my style onto the field.