In football, a manager can be a philosopher, a guide, but rarely a friend. Manolo Marquez is all three. The Hyderabad FC head coach has a fourth dimension to his personality as well – that of a father. That’s why his players are always ready to go the extra mile for him.
In this respect, Marquez’s worldview is very similar to that of legendary Syed Abdul Rahim, arguably India’s finest ever coach. Under Rahim saab's stewardship, Hyderabad ruled Indian football in the 1950s and early 60s, led by the indomitable Hyderabad City Police, and produced a plethora of Olympians. It was a “golden era” of Indian football when the national team was called the “Brazil of Asia”.
For a city steeped in such a rich football legacy, it was a shame that nothing was being done to arrest its waning fortunes after Rahim saab's death in 1963.
It was not until 2019 that Hyderabad football was awakened from its deep slumber. The city made its way into the Indian Super League with a brand new outfit called Hyderabad FC. The franchise promised to rekindle the city’s passion for the beautiful game and restore Hyderabad to its rightful place on the Indian football map. However, their maiden ISL campaign turned out to be disastrous as they finished bottom of the league.
Marquez’s appointment as head coach in August 2020 changed everything for the Nizams. The 53-year-old Spaniard not only guided the team to a respectable fifth place finish in last season’s ISL, but also espoused a brand of football that brought out the best from his young Indian players. As a result, six HFC players were called up for the Indian national camp earlier this year.
A week before the commencement of ISL-8, Sportskeeda caught up with Marquez to understand his plans for the upcoming season, the reason behind his great rapport with the young Indian players and much more.
Q) Under you, Hyderabad FC had a good run last season despite narrowly missing out on a playoff spot. What are the areas you feel the team needs to work on and what are the positions that required changes?
Marquez: I think you should try to improve in the areas that you can every season. But it is also important to continue insisting on the other aspects and make sure that we are strong. In the world, more or less all teams sign and lose players after a season. The difficult work is to ensure that the new players adapt to our style and, of course, to continue with the development of the existing ones.
I say in every interview that the off-season in India is too long. But I think after COVID, football will grow quickly in India.
Q) I’ve spoken to a few HFC players. They’re all praise for you. What makes you such a favorite among your players?
Marquez: I think I am very lucky to train these kind of players, more than the opposite. When you arrive at a new club and the predisposition of the players is similar to that in Hyderabad FC, your work gets easier. In modern football, managing the group is more important than working on their knowledge of the game.
If they are confident and always work hard, the season will automatically go well. You can never promise good scores, but you can promise hard work, attitude and commitment. Usually the results arrive. You can't control everything and maybe this is one of the reasons why we love this sport so much.
Q) As per the new ISL guidelines, a team can field only four foreigners in the playing XI, so the Indian players will have a greater role this season. Since HFC have the cream of young Indian players, does it give them an added advantage?
Marquez: We have very good Indian players like every other team in the ISL. We need to continue with our work. We can't see the work of the other teams. We know that many coaches work very well and this will be fantastic for the future and the development of Indian football.
We have to be focused on continuing with the improvement of our players. Football needs continuity and you will get it if you stay focused in every situation.
Q) Youngsters like Akash Mishra, Asish Rai, Md Yasir, Hitesh Sharma, Chinglensana Konsham, Halicharan Narzary and Nikhil Poojary have blossomed under your guidance. How do you think they have evolved, and what are your expectations from them for the new season?
Marquez: If every time we compare ISL-8 with last season, we are making a big mistake. My players are on the right path, but with the big gap between seasons in Indian football (not only HFC), a lot of players change.
I repeat, we need to continue working on the same line. Let's see what happens. We're optimistic, but in the career of a player you should surpass both good and bad moments. Only players with the strongest mentality will reach the top level in India.
Q) What are your thoughts on HFC’s new signings (both Indian and overseas)? Why did you go for Juanan and Bartholomew Ogbeche in particular?
Marquez: When the previous season ended, the staff and the sports director discussed positions that required improvement. And now, we are satisfied with our squad for the next ISL – both Indian and overseas players.
I don't like to talk about specific players, but obviously we signed foreign players with experience in the ISL and with the experience of playing almost four to five months in a bubble. The only exception is Javi Siverio, a young striker whom I know very well.
Q) I am sure you have had a good look at HFC’s second team that played the Durand Cup a couple of months ago. Who are the young players from that squad we should watch out for?
Marquez: Biaka Jongte, Abdul Rabeeh and Mark Zothanpuia. They played in the Durand Cup and are now in Goa with the first team. A few players will also play on loan in the I-League. Another group of players will continue playing tournaments with the B team. It is the correct way for the future of the club. The work of Thangboi [Singto] and Shameel [Chembakath] was and is excellent as well.
Q) Looking at the squad, do you think HFC can win the title this season? Which player can be your trump card in your title quest?
Marquez: In football, it’s very dangerous to speak before the beginning of a competition. I think if you ask the 11 head coaches [about the upcoming ISL], the answers will be similar. All the teams have practical possibilities and let's see how the competition is. I have to transmit optimism and I think we have possibilities. But there are other strong teams with very good players as well.
I don't know which player will be decisive, but I am very happy with my squad and all of them are important.
Hyderabad FC will get their ISL-8 campaign underway with the “home” clash against Chennaiyin FC in Bambolim on November 23.