How Spanish football has put down roots in the Indian Super League and continues to shape its culture

The Indian Super League (ISL) has been a significant catalyst in the development of football in India since its inception in 2014. With its unique blend of entertainment, quality football, and international star power, the league has captured the imagination of football fans across the country. Among the various influences on the ISL, Spanish football has played a particularly prominent role. From players to coaches and tactical philosophies, the Spanish influence on the ISL can be found in the brushstrokes, and continues to shape the league in multiple ways. 

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One of the most noticeable impacts of Spanish football on the ISL has been the influx of Spanish players. Among the foreign imports playing in the ISL, more Spaniards have emigrated than any other nationality. Over the years, several quality Spanish footballers have graced it with their presence, bringing with them experience, technical and tactical proficiency, and a winning mentality.

Champions League winner Luis Garcia and World Cup winner Josep Capdevila were among the marquee signings in the first ever season back in 2014. Prominent Spanish players including Carlos Marchena, Jofre Mateu, Borja Fernandez and Jaime Gavilan were also part of the league in its formative years. While perhaps not standouts in Spain, keen observers of the top two divisions may recall the likes of Ferran Corominas, Manuel Lanzarote, Edu Garcia, Edu Bedia, Carlos Pena, Alberto Noguera, Igor Angulo, Dimas Delgado, Javi Hernandez or Hector Yuste, all of whom have become household names in Indian football circles.

These players not only contributed on the field with their skill and experience, but have also played a crucial role in mentoring young Indian talents, and in turn elevating the overall standard of the league. Ex-Espanyol forward Corominas, or ‘Coro’, won the Golden Boot twice in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and two years later another Spaniard lifted it – former Athletic and Deportivo La Coruna forward Angulo. All three awards came at the same club, FC Goa, and Coro’s total of 18 is the joint-record alongside Bart Ogbeche, who equalled him two years ago for Hyderabad in a 22-game season. Coro’s exploits saw him named Player of the Season in 2018-19 too. 

Take my Golden Boots and give me ISL trophy: Ferran Corominas | Football News - Times of India
Coro, laden with goals.

Spanish coaches have also left their mark on the ISL, both in terms of tactical innovations and managerial success. The appointment of coaches with experience in Spanish football has become a trend in the ISL, with clubs recognising the value they bring in terms of playing style and development. As with players, the number of Spanish coaches in the ISL has been the highest among all foreign nations. 

The likes of Antonio Lopez Habas, Albert Roca, Sergio Lobera, Carles Cuadrat, Jose Francisco Molina, Juan Ferrando, Josep Gumbau and Manolo Marquez have all made significant impacts as head coaches in the ISL. A number of those names are dotted around La Liga‘s history over the last two decades, some of the more notable examples including Roca, who was part of Barcelona’s staff under Ronald Koeman, while Gombau is currently in charge of Aston Villa’s reserve side, and Lopez had spells managing at Valencia, Granada and Celta Vigo earlier in his career.

Back on the subcontinent, Lobera has revolutionised the way all his clubs – Goa, Mumbai City FC and Odisha FC played, implementing an attractive possession-based style that captivated fans and yielded results on the pitch. Habas, who also famously reached the Copa America Final with Bolivia back in 1997, has arguably been the most successful coach in the ISL’s history. He won the first ever season and success never stopped following him since. He currently leads India’s national club Mohun Bagan SG.

Cuadrat guided Bengaluru FC to their first-ever ISL title and has played his part in East Bengal’s recent revival, showcasing the effectiveness of Spanish coaching methods in Indian football. Molina lifted the trophy in his only season in India, while Roca, Ferrando and Marquez have also had a fair share of success at various clubs. In the recently concluded league season, three of the top four teams in the league were being led by Spanish coaches.