Spain to Bengaluru and back: Albert Roca leaves behind a legacy at Bengaluru FC
Albert Roca parts way with Bengaluru FC leaving behind a legacy that won’t be forgotten. He leaves with an aura that has made Bengaluru FC one of the top teams in the country – a team that steps out as favourites to win every time they take the field.
Under Ashley Westwood, Bengaluru FC had already grown into a dominant force in Indian football with two I-League titles and one Federation Cup trophy in just three years of its existence.
Despite that, the Blues were yet to stamp their authority at the Asian level while also being untested against the much-fancied ISL sides.
When Bengaluru FC and Westwood decided to part ways after three successful years, the club was left with a huge gap to be filled. While the fans wanted the Englishman to be retained, the club aimed for more.
When the new coach was announced as none other than the former Barcelona assistant coach, many were surprised. While the fans rejoiced when a big name joined as the coach, football experts kept their opinions reserved. After all, big names don't always deliver in Indian football.
It’s easy to say that bringing in a Spanish coach from La Masia would mean players playing the much-revered tiki-taka style of football, but it's a completely different ball game when you have players trained under a direct football philosophy for most of their career.
The fluid-one touch passing and possession-based football is not something one masters in a week or month's time; what it needs is the dedication and, more importantly, capable players.
One thing that Roca was lucky enough to inherit from Westwood was the high fitness level of Bengaluru players as compared to other I-League teams.
Perfect start gets derailed
With AFC Cup knock-outs being his first assignment, Roca decided to play to the strength of his side instead of making changes right away. He brought in proven and experienced players like Alvaro Rubio, Juanan, and Cameroon Watson to bolster key positions of his team.
Despite Blues failing at the final hurdle against a strong Iraqi Air Force club, the Asian campaign was still marked as a success. BFC had already created history by being the first Indian side to reach the final of the competition.
Roca was off to a flying start and so, a lot was expected from the team in next I-League season with some even suggesting Blues to steamroll their opponents.
Things did start off well for the Blues as Roca started to implement his philosophy into the players but soon the team started to falter. Rubio’s departure after the AFC Cup campaign had put Roca in a tight spot in search of a fourth foreigner.
From Roby Norales to Marjan Jugovic to Cornell Glen, neither of them managed to make an impact like the gaffer would have wanted them to.
His style of play took time to be emulated on pitch too. One could see the Blues trying to pick up the gaffer's philosophy with the focus on keeping possession and starting attacks from the back.
However, results took a drastic hit in the process. Silly mistakes and players struggling to adapt meant the Blues ending up dropping points on a number of occasions. After starting brightly with three consecutive wins, the Blues' title defence was completely derailed when they managed just one win in their next 11 games.
By the time, Roca realised what his players lacked, the season had already come to an end. For a side that has always been among the title contenders, the 2016/17 I-League season turned out to be a disastrous campaign.
Experts criticised Roca's lack of understanding of I-League's physical needs and too much experimentation with the formation as the reason for BFC's downfall.Roca lost the league title but won the Federation Cup
Back on top
By the end of the I-League season, Roca had almost everything figured out as he started building his team around Sunil Chhetri while strengthening his defence with a fixed back line.
The result saw Bengaluru playing a fluid passing game. Glimpses of this were visible during the penultimate game of the I-league season when Blues faced DSK Shivajians. Chhetri and co smashed 7 goals past the hapless Pune outfit with the captain himself being part of six of them - scoring two and assisting four.
While Chhetri has always been an asset that anyone would want to have, Roca had made sure that the team wasn’t too dependent on their skipper. The season-long work on his possession-based football had finally rubbed on to the players as the team started to settle in.
Bengaluru bounced back from a disappointing I-League season with a Federation Cup final win against much-fancied Mohun Bagan, despite missing out the service of their star player - Chhetri. This was just the start to their ascendancy to being the top club of the country once again.
Answering the critics
As Bengaluru FC decided to enter the Indian Super League, Roca had to deal with a new challenge of losing his players to the draft. While Chhetri and Udanta Singh were retained along with youngsters Nishu Kumar and Daniel Lalhlimpuia, regulars such as Amrinder Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and others had to be released.
Roca decided to pick players who could suit well to his system while retaining as much of his core side possible. He also played an important role in bringing quality foreign players in Miku, Dimas Delgado, Toni Dovale, and Erik Paartalu.
After a bittersweet run in the AFC Cup 2017 campaign, Bengaluru took part in the fourth edition of Indian Super League as the league's new entrant, where many believed BFC would struggle against ISL sides.
However, people were in for shock when the Blues steamrolled their opponents to finish at the top of the table after the league stage. Despite losing the final of Indian Super League, Bengaluru FC had still managed to establish itself as the big dog of Indian football.
This was evident in the Super Cup tournament where the Blues stormed their way to the final lifting the inaugural trophy. Even in the AFC Cup, despite having stacked up fixtures, they have managed to qualify to the knock-outs for the fourth time running - with a little help from Aizawl FC.
Roca hasn’t shied away from rotating his side and his trust in his bench strength has also reaped in huge rewards. This was best seen during the latter part of the ISL season when BFC had to simultaneously deal with AFC Cup qualifiers.
From January 14 to March 1, Bengaluru played 13 games i.e. a game every 3 or 4 days, winning 10, drawing 2 and losing just 1. Such has been BFC’s dominance this season that in the last 41 games, Bengaluru has won 29, drew 5 and lost just 7 matches – miles ahead of any other side. It is a testimonial to Roca’s coaching capability.
The legacy left behind
Under Westwood, Bengaluru FC were a robust side with no-nonsense gameplay and grinding out winning results. Under Roca, things were slightly different. After an initial settling in period, the Blues played what many would call an exciting brand of football.
With his calm demeanour, tactical astuteness, and knowledge of the game, Roca took Indian football by storm within the space of just two years.
Garnering respect from all quarters of the country, from his players who have termed him as the best coach they have played under to rival coaches who have acknowledged the Spaniard's contribution to Indian Football, Roca has won everyone over.
Now as he returns home, he leaves behind a lasting impression on Bengaluru FC, one of a side that always plays for a win.
Since the last season, every time Bengaluru FC stepped out on the field, they stepped out as favourites - be it an Indian Super League game, a Super Cup game or an AFC Cup match.
The Blues have always been favourites to win and that is the legacy that Roca leaves behind.Modified 20 Dec 2019, 16:01 IST