ISL: Roca vs Lobera – a clash of the Barcelona graduates

Albert Roca and Sergio Lobera owe their footballing philosophy to their time at FC Barcelona. They did not interact often, for during the years Roca spent at the Camp Nou as part of Frank Rijkaard’s staff, Lobera was in charge of the club’s youth sides.

BFC head coach Albert Roca (left) and FC Goa head coach Sergio Lobera during the ISL media day in Mumbai recently.   -  Special Arrangement

Albert Roca and Sergio Lobera owe their footballing philosophy to their time at FC Barcelona. They did not interact often, for during the years Roca spent at the Camp Nou as part of Frank Rijkaard's staff, Lobera was in charge of the club's youth sides. But they know and respect each other, united by the knowledge that they are graduates of the same, great school.

On Thursday, the two coaches will meet as rivals in the ISL, when Bengaluru FC and FC Goa lock horns at the Fatorda stadium. “We know each other,” says Roca. “We grew up in the same place and have the same philosophy. Our ideas are similar: try to dominate the other with the ball, control possession, and when you don't have the ball get it back as soon as possible. It's going to be nice to compete against him.”

Earlier this month, Lobera articulated the same vision for his team. “I like quick passes and creative players and believe that the more you keep the ball, the less you have to run,” he said. “I am steeped in the Barcelona style of football, so you can guess how my team will try to play."
Lobera knows Carles Cuadrat, Roca's assistant and a former Barcelona youth coach himself, rather well. "I had a fair bit of contact with Cuadrat," he says. "After Barcelona, we have followed each other's careers and kept in touch."

This season has brought to the ISL three Spanish coaches, all of whom profess to playing a 'possession-based' game (although Roca's teams can be rather direct too). Will this have a lasting impact, though, on Indian football? “It is what I'm trying to do,” says Roca. “I'm sure even Sergio is thinking that way. Indian players and foreigners need to get that idea and translate that on the pitch. It's hard work; it's not going to happen in two weeks or two months. But we have to try.”

Roca and Lobera met at the ISL player draft and the media day, when the former shared his experience of coaching in India. “It's his first year in a new country; I have an advantage there,” the BFC head coach says. Roca expects an engrossing contest on Thursday, with both teams willing to build from the back, willing to take risks. “Ultimately, it's the players who decide,” he says, before fumbling for the right expression in English. “Let's see who is more...(in Spanish) acertar.” It translates to hitting the target.