Almost everyone involved in the current Indian Super League (ISL) season has heard of Hyderabad FC coach Manolo Marquez. Even Bengaluru FC coach Carles Cuadrat admitted that he had heard of Marquez while being a part of the FC Barcelona setup. The likes of Fran Sandaza, Odei Onaindia, and Aridane Santana had never played in a side coached by Marquez before. But all three have heard of him and their willingness to work for him was never in question.
With 32 years of coaching experience under his belt, the Spaniard was put in charge of a faltering Hyderabad FC side after Albert Roca returned to FC Barcelona. However, transforming the club into a 'winning outfit' after a disastrous season was a near-impossible task.
Manolo Marquez's role in the renaissance began with recruiting the right players. Following the departures of Marcelinho and Bobo, the 52-year-old needed to rebuild the squad from scratch.
Manolo Marquez - Shoring up the Hyderabad FC defense
The first task Marquez had on his hand was to shore up a shaky Hyderabad FC defensive unit that let in goals for fun last season. Bringing in players with experience in the ISL was key. Subrata Pal, Chinglensana Singh, and Aridane Santana made their way into the side, with Santana taking over the mantle of leadership.
The first game of the 2020-21 ISL season for Hyderabad FC witnessed many firsts. This was the club's third win in their brief ISL history and they also kept their first-ever clean-sheet. It was a testament to the defensive unit put together by Marquez.
More importantly, it seemed that the Spaniard had cracked the code of finding a winning formula for a club that was not used to winning matches.
The fateful game against Bengaluru FC
Hyderabad FC are one of three ISL teams to have one overseas spot on their roster unfilled, thus having just six foreign players. Due to Fran Sandaza being doubtful, Marquez's overseas options shrunk to just five with Onaindia, Santana, Sastre, and Chianese forming the backbone of the starting XI. Things, however, came to a halt in the first half against Bengaluru FC in Margao.
Aridane Santana had the best chance of the first half when he overpowered Juanan to get his header from a Lluis Sastre set-piece. This required a top-drawer low save from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. However, despite the stellar performance, the first half would be remembered more for the injuries to Joel Chianese and Lluis Sastre.
While Sastre was substituted towards the end of the first half for a regulation hamstring injury, Chianese suffered a gruesome ankle injury. This meant that Odei Onaindia, Joao Victor, and Aridane Santana would be the only fit overseas players for Hyderabad FC.
Marquez's men got through the second 45 minutes against Bengaluru FC without conceding a goal. But the stage was set for the Indian players in the squad to play the next game against Jamshedpur FC.
Yasir, Liston, Hitesh, and Narzary step up for Hyderabad FC
Mohammad Yasir and Hitesh Sharma came in for Joel Chianese and Lluis Sastre respectively. This was one of the few times that more than eight Indian players were fielded for a club in the ISL. Hyderabad FC fans feared the worst, especially against a Jamshedpur FC side that boasted of players like Peter Hartley, Stephen Eze, and sharpshooter Nerijus Valskis.
However, despite these fears, Hyderabad FC started on the front foot. Liston Colaco and Halicharan Narzary kept making early inroads into the Jamshedpur defence. Colaco had the first chance of the game when his long-range effort from a free-kick went a few inches over the top bar.
Halicharan Narzary also got in on the action towards the end of the first half when his trickery came close to getting Hyderabad FC the lead. But Pawan Kumar made the save. Narzary kept pushing yet again as a spilled Pawan Kumar effort saw Aridane Santana put away a simple chance.
Akash Mishra and Asish Rai marshaled the defensive unit for the most part before a Chinglensana Singh mistake allowed Stephen Eze to smash home an impressive goal. The game ended in controversial circumstances with Manolo Marquez shown a red card by the referee.
Despite the ghastly conclusion to the game, Manolo Marquez will be happy with what he has seen so far. Of course, Santana has been on target and Onaindia has been impressive too. But the most encouraging sign has been the Indian players who have stepped up.
Credit should certainly go to Marquez, who put his faith in the younger players. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Marquez has stated that Hyderabad FC has a good team for the future.
"We have a very good team for the future. But we'll try this season, we get to play good football and to give opportunities to young players. India has a good future because football is growing quickly in the country."
Hyderabad FC face off against ATK Mohun Bagan next. This will be an interesting match-up, given the fact that both Antonio Lopez Habas and Manolo Marquez are yet to lose a match this season.
Needless to say, Marquez will be looking at the Hyderabad FC youngsters to step up once more in what is expected to be their biggest test against ATK Mohun Bagan.