ISL Final, Bengaluru FC v FC Goa - Sergio Lobera to cast friendship with BFC coach Carles Cuadrat aside for coveted crown
The handshakes between FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera and his Bengaluru FC counterpart Carles Cuadrat at the Indian Super League pre-final press conference seemed like two long-lost friends came together for a reunion.
The smiles, the embraces and the exchanges suggested camaraderie but underneath all that is Lobera's desperation to outwit the man who he has lost to twice this season.
Sure, Lobera and Cuadrat are good buddies off the pitch, having known each other from their time at Barcelona Reserve teams.
Despite Cuadrat crediting Lobera with helping him sign up for the Bengaluru job, in what is his first assignment as a head coach, the friendship will be put aside in the Bengaluru v Goa ISL Final at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday, March 17.
Lobera has indicated he will not hold his team back in the summit clash.
"Against Bengaluru tomorrow, I think tactics are important but other psychological factors like motivation will come into play. It will be a special game against a friend and coach, who has continued the project at Bengaluru.
I look forward to it, but let me remind you that I am an ambitious coach and I want the ISL trophy at any cost," Lobera said on Saturday.
ISL rewards winners of final, not table-toppers - FC Goa's Sergio Lobera
His team, FC Goa, were denied the pole position on the ISL table on head-to-head alone but for Lobera, the top spot doesn't matter now. He's eyeing the bigger prize - the ISL trophy.
Goa and Bengaluru both finished on 34 points at the end of the league stage but Bengaluru were the table-toppers because of their better head-to-head record.
"If you ask me, the team with the better goal difference should be considered the winner (of the league stage)," Lobera said.
"But here, every team knows the format and they work according to that. The playoffs format are not something strange to me because I have played a playoff in Spain to gain promotion."
Bengaluru, Goa styles not similar - Sergio Lobera
A lot of the build-up for the ISL final has focussed on the similar playing styles of FC Goa and Bengaluru FC. Even coach Carles Cuadrat compared his attack with Goa's, saying Bengaluru have Miku, Goa have Ferran Corominas and if they have Brandon Fernandes and Jackichand Singh as the wingers, Bengaluru possess Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh.
However, Lobera dismissed the suggestion that the playing styles are similar, saying his method is more attacking and based on controlling possession.
"I've been hearing that Bengaluru and Goa play similarly," Lobera said. "I don't agree. We come from the Barcelona school of thought, yes. Here, what I tried is attacking football which keeps control of the possession. And that's what I have been doing.
"The biggest achievement is improving the Indian players that train under me. After this second season with me, I can say they understand this attacking brand of football."
We can learn from defeats to Bengaluru - Sergio Lobera
The record may be against Goa because of their 2-1 and 3-0 defeats to Bengaluru in the ISL league stage but for Lobera, the final will be a different game where the past will not come into play.
"It's true Bengaluru won both their games against us but we are coming here with intention. We could learn from those mistakes. That's how I am looking at those games. Bengaluru come as the favourites but we have the intention to go for it.
"You have to look at Bengaluru FC as a whole and it will be a battle between players and coaches. But the best team will take the ISL trophy," Lobera added.