Tiri: Jamshedpur fans make me feel at home

Jamshedpur FC captain Tiri, generally reticent but a friend, philosopher and guide to his teammates, opens up about his Indian experience.

“The real role of a captain in a team is to be there in aid for the players, anything they are looking for on and off the pitch,” says Tiri.   -  SPORTZPICS / ISL

José Luis Espinosa, known as Tiri, is a household name in Jamshedpur. It is not common for a central defender in football to earn that much popularity, but Tiri is one who leads the charge from behind and shapes his team’s attacks with his leadership role.

Tiri lifted the Indian Super League title with ATK in 2016 after debuting the year before with the same side. The Spanish centre-back, who made 83 appearances for La Liga giant Atletico Madrid’s B side before signing on for the ISL, was one of the main acquisitions of Jamshedpur FC, which stared its ISL journey in 2017.

A generally reticent man who prefers to shun the media glare, Tiri maintains a totally opposite profile with his teammates, for whom he is a friend, philosopher and guide. Tiri opened up to Sportstar about his Indian experience.

This is your fifth season in the ISL, making you one of the most experienced foreigners in the league. How do you look at the evolution of Indian football from your ISL experience?

The level of the league has surely gone up. As you can see, a lot of foreign players are looking to come here because they think it is an attractive tournament to play. You see this is happening despite a reduction in the number of foreign players in the team. You must have also seen that the league is settling down to a system where the foreign coaches are helping the teams develop their game technically. This is evident in the fact that most of the teams are trying to effectively play the passing game while keeping the ball on the ground.

With the coaches insisting on building up attacks from the back, does it make your position as centre-back more important in the team?

In a match, it is very important to make the right decisions. As I said, the teams in the ISL are opting for a more creative approach where you are playing more possession-based football. You are right, initially the approach was quite straight, where we played long balls and I was playing just like a defender clearing the attacks. But the responsibility has doubled now that the tactical orientation of the teams has undergone a transformation.

You have a long stint with Atletico Madrid B in Spain. How do you look at the transition to ISL?

At the beginning, the change bothered me as I came from a different country with a different football tradition, climate, language and culture. With time I learnt to adapt to the new conditions and I am feeling quite comfortable now. I may think of applying for an Indian passport in near future (chuckles).

How do you look at your professional career?

Like every kid taking to football in Spain, I dreamt of playing in the La Liga. That did not really happen, but I still feel that as a professional footballer, I did justice to my career as the ISL is the top division of Indian football. I feel great as a footballer when I see thousands of fans packing the stadium and cheering for my team. The appreciation I receive from the fans here in India has in a way done away with the loss of not making it big in Spain.

You were nominated as captain by Jamshepur FC last season. This season too you have been given the armband. What does the team expect from you on the pitch?

The real role of a captain in a team here is to be there in aid for the players, anything they are looking for on and off the pitch. As a captain, I also have the task of motivating the players who are not getting enough time on the pitch. I have to keep them cheerful so that whenever they are asked to take the field, they are mentally ready to give their best. Fortunately, my work will be shared this season by two of my colleagues, Memo (Emerson Gomes de Moura) and Piti (Francisco Medina Luna).

In the seasons that you have been here, you have played with and against a lot of Indian players. Who among them have impressed you?

I can say about Brandon (Fernandes) from FC Goa, the Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan and Jerry (Mawihmingthanga),who played for our side last season (Jerry transferred to Odisha FC this year). There are many more names, but the names of these players come to my mind first. I like Brandon because of his temperament and intelligence. Sunil is a real leader. You can see him talking to everyone and helping everyone in the team. Sandesh is a very good centre-back, if not the best of the best in India. Jerry is very hard working and I really liked his with-the-ball runs.

There is so much of Spain in Indian football now. What do you think is so special about that?

I think there is the added responsibility on the foreign players to help the Indian players develop the right skills and techniques. The coaches have the task of strategising, but the foreign players coordinate with the Indian players in implementing the system. That is one of the big challenges of playing in the ISL.