Bengaluru FC are the toast of the town, as they look to create history in the AFC Cup 2016 final to be played in Doha, Qatar later tonight. The I-League champions are the first Indian club to make it to the finals of the prestigious Asian competition and will fight tooth and nail to write a new chapter in the annals of the country’s football canvas.
While the BFC core has continued to contribute to the Blues’ rise under Roca, not least Captain Marvel Sunil Chhetri and midfield dynamo Eugeneson Lyngdoh, the new arrivals deserve mention too.
Spaniard Alvaro Rubio was drafted in as one of new manager Alberto Roca’s latest signings in August 2016 on a four-month deal. And if Bengaluru are to get anything from today’s game they need every player firing on all cylinders
Alvaro Rubio Robres was born in Logrono, Spain and his professional career began with the Real Zaragoza B team. Despite his contributions, he did not make the then La Liga side’s first team. It wasn’t until his move to Albacete – first on loan, followed by a permanent move - that his real potential was realised.
During his six years at Albacete, he established himself as a core member of the side and played a key role as the club returned to the La Liga in 2002. He continued impressing managers, teammates and fans while turning out nearly 180 appearances in the colours of Albacete.
Rubio was called up to the Spain U-20 international side and was part of the team that won the tournament in 1999. He also featured for the national U-21 team once, scoring against Israel during Spain’s 2000 UEFA European Championship qualifiers.
Real Valladolid and captaincy
Alvaro moved to Real Valladolid at the start of the 2006/07 season when the club was still in the second division of Spain’s domestic football. He helped his side achieve promotion in his first season and soon became an important player for the team. A fan favourite of the Zorrillas, Rubio had an excellent 2007/08 season, playing regularly and also scoring his first few goals for Valladolid in the league.
The defensive midfielder’s 2009/10 season was, however, marred by injuries as he managed to turn out for just 16 games; Valladolid were relegated at the end of that season. Captain Alvaro, despite being dogged by injuries, was instrumental in seeing the Zorillas return to domestic top flight competition at the end of the 2011/12 season.
He went on to play a further four seasons with the Pucelas, two in the La Liga and another two in the Segunda as they were relegated once again to the second tier. Over the course of his decade-long stint, Rubio racked up more than 300 appearances for Valladolid across competitions.
His departure at the end of the 2015/16 season prompted an emotional farewell for the captain from the fan base, which was preceded by a standing ovation during his last outing for the side.
Instant impact at Bengaluru
Ex-Barcelona assistant manager Alberto Roca who took over reins in July had large shoes to fill at Bengaluru FC. Former boss Ashley Westwood had a successful and trophy-laden stint, and there were high expectations from Roca. Needless to say, he has delivered instant results and how!
The new gaffer’s signings – Cameron Watson, Alvaro Rubio and Juan Antonio Gonzalez - have merged with the BFC side quickly and influenced the style of play and quality of performances. Although less publicised than some of his teammates, Alvaro - the Blues’ go-to man in central midfield – is the one who keeps their game ticking.
Rubio arrived as part of the Blues side in August 2016 from Spanish outfit Real Valladolid, in what is his first stint outside of his home country. He is contracted to BFC for four months according to reports.
In an interview, Rubio was asked about what he brings to Roca's side, and his response was: “Tactical understanding and technique are my main qualities. I want to help my teammates with that.”
When enquired if he was the coach’s man on the pitch, the midfielder replied "more or less,” with a smile that belied the trust the manager places in the lynchpin.
The former Valladolid captain has impressed fans and football experts in just four appearances for the I-League champions in their AFC Cup outings which commenced soon after his arrival.
His composure in the centre of the park has been immense as also the range of his passing. Rubio’s introduction has lent a hitherto unseen level of solidity in the Blues’ midfield, with the Spaniard’s ability to retain possession and spray key passes to the attacking players ahead of him proving to be vital.
He initiates attacks for his team and breaks up opponents’ play, adding a defensive mindset to the Indian side.
The wealth of experience in Rubio’s kitty means he is unperturbed when under pressure; he manages to keep control of the ball and find a teammate to pass to even in tricky situations – a necessity of sorts in Roca’s possession-based style of football.
The Blues number 9 was famed for his passing abilities in Spain and on this account, has proved his mettle on foreign shores too.
A vital cog in the side
His partnership with the forwards has been noteworthy, and this is what the Spaniard had to say ahead of the home leg of the AFC Cup quarterfinal against Tampines Rovers:
“Training is very physical and getting better every day. It’s been good preparation for Wednesday’s game, which is vital for the club. ....... Sunil is very smart, and Daniel’s movement is excellent. They are different players. Sunil comes deep to keep the ball and pass while Daniel likes to run in behind the defenders. It depends on what they do (for me) whether I play the pass or not.”
In Bengaluru's first leg against Singapore-based Tampines Rovers, Rubio dictated play throughout the match. While going long, he found Chhetri and Lyngdoh and managed to stretch the game by passing to the fullbacks when opportunities arose.
The midfielder’s passing and vision were on full display during the return leg, which ended up as a goalless draw.
Rubio was man-marked by the opposition captain Safiq Rahim in the first leg of the AFC Cup semi-final against Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim. The fact that a 37-year-old was paid such close attention to for the entirety of such a crucial game is indicative of the telling impact the Blues midfielder has had in such a short time.
The Spaniard provided defensive cover for his centre-backs during BFC’s home tie against Johor and shored up the backline efficiently, helping seal a thrilling 3-1 victory which catapulted his side to the finals of the continental cup.
It may be just a handful of performances, but if the 37-year-old Rubio’s solidity in crucial games is anything to go by, BFC will do well to offer him at least a season-long contract for their future I-league commitments.
The Spain international’s vast experience and vision can certainly be put to good use by the Blues; it also provides the youngsters in the team an opportunity to learn from someone who has been exposed to top-flight football for such an extended duration.
More Indian Football news, transfer rumours, analysis and features at Sportskeeda.comPublished 05 Nov 2016, 15:11 IST