ISL 2018-19: Simplicity is the mantra for Carles Cuadrat's Bengaluru FC
Carles Cuadrat is 50 years old. By that age, you expect most coaches to have had control of one or more senior teams in their lives. Just as a point of reference, Cuadrat is just a year younger than Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
With absolutely no implications about either man's ability as a coach, Klopp has been top dog for 17 years, and still going strong, while Cuadrat has had to work his way after mustering up a far less impressive playing CV than Klopp managed. Having joined Frank Rijkaard and Albert Roca as a physical trainer at Galatasaray, Cuadrat became Roca's assistant when the two steered the El Salvador ship, before joining Bengaluru FC in 2016.
Fast forward to two years later, and for the first time, reports would read as "head coach Carles Cuadrat."
"I have worked most of my life with Alberto (Roca), so obviously a lot of my ideas are his ideas," were among the first words that Cuadrat said as the new Bengaluru manager, after taking over from his long-time boss.
He is his own man
While there are some obvious aspects from Roca's philosophy that have carried on at Bengaluru, Cuadrat has shown already that he's not just a Roca-bot. Bengaluru have stressed on the need for continuity being the single most important factor behind appointing Cuadrat, and he has brought that.
It is clear the squad too, have taken to their new head coach like a fish to water. It was evident from several separate footages from the club that Cuadrat was a players' coach.
But how is he different to Roca? It's that one word that he's mentioned probably more than any other word since he's taken over as head coach - suffering. He's made his players embrace the suffering, he's made his player enjoy pragmatism, doggedness. Most importantly, Cuadrat has embraced efficiency over style.
With the quality the Bengaluru possess in their ranks, style would've been an automatic by-product of solidity, and Cuadrat has ensured that. He's also given his big players the room to flourish.
The three most technically adept players in this squad are Miku, Dimas Delgado and Sunil Chhetri. He's ensured that while they've been close enough to each other, they also have their own space to do their thing.
Last season, Roca tended to start Edu Garcia on the left flank to accommodate Chhetri in a central area. Cuadrat has stuck to a 4-3-3 shape with Chhetri on the left flank. That has allowed Miku to move anywhere between the shoulder of the last defender to the halfway line. With Miku dropping deep, Bengaluru have been brilliant in their use of space to find Chhetri and Udanta making runs into gaps vacated by Miku.
But perhaps, the most significant difference is that Bengaluru are now not ashamed to play direct football. Last season, Roca had said that the way of winning was as important, if not more, than winning itself.
Cuadrat has rubbished that for himself. With the way he's set up sides and the tweaks he's made, it's clear he's a man who would win first, and then worry about style.
A bit of Roca, a bit of Westwood
Cuadrat has had only two predecessors at Bengaluru, and from the early indications, it has seemed like he has embraced positive traits in both.
That was on full display in the match against Kerala Blasters on Monday. Bengaluru retook the lead with a fortuitous own goal in the 81st minute, and for the remainder of the game, they didn't allow themselves to be threatened too much, by sticking to the most basic principles of pass and move. That was Roca's Bengaluru - the side that beat you down to submission by not giving you the ball.
The latter part of the first half and the beginning of the second saw Cuadrat's Bengaluru deliver a throwback to the Ashley Westwood days. They suffered, Cuadrat wanted them to. They were steely, they barely seemed threatened - although CK Vineeth might have a word or two to say about that.
Whilst facing Kerala pressure, Bengaluru didn't over-complicate things. They had the all-round brilliance of Miku, the deceptive aerial prowess of Chhetri, and the pace of Udanta and Kean Lewis to hit. So they could go direct. That meant both Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu dropped deeper into their own half, to ping balls up top. Cuadrat's role for Harmanjot Singh Khabra is the stereotypical role that Westwood had reserved for Thoi Singh in his Bengaluru teams.
Technically proficient players, more often than not, need players around them to do the midfield dirty work - more so someone who's aged 35, like Dimas. Khabra, like Lenny Rodrigues, has flown under the radar despite strong performances, because he plays the less glamorous role in midfield.
The substitution in that game in Kochi, to bring on Xisco Hernandez to replace Juanan was straight from the Roca school of thought. Roca did take off one of his centre-backs for an attacking player last season - it worked sometimes, it didn't on others. But there was a conviction to Cuadrat's change and how he worked things out.
The easy thing to do would've been to move Erik Paartalu to centre-back to keep the height advantage there. But the Aussie was a humongous presence in midfield, which meant shuffles for Rahul Bheke and Khabra.
In the end, the gamble paid off as it was Xisco's shot which eventually ended up in the back of the net off poor Nikola Krcmarevic.
In the end, the Cuadrat style is defined by one word - simplicity. He has shown in his seven games in-charge of Bengaluru so far that he does not want his players to complicate things on the pitch. If short passing and keeping holding of possession is the simple thing to do in those circumstances - Bengaluru do that. If going direct proves to be working better - Bengaluru do that.
The suffering that Cuadrat has spoken about will hold in Bengaluru in good stead, as we head further towards the business end of the competition.
A stint that began with a disastrous AFC Cup outing against Turkmen side Altyn Asyr has now taken off in the ISL - Bengaluru are top of the league, having played one or two games lesser than most other sides.
They have suffered at times, they have counter-punched at times, they have dominated matches at times. Whatever approach they have adopted has been underlined by one major aspect - Cuadrat has not complicated things for himself.
Bengaluru have done the simple things well. Their manager has stuck to his guns. He's his own man. There's a little bit of Roca's tactical nous, a little bit of Westwood's exuberance and ultimately a whole lot of Carles Cuadrat's simplicity.