It was a challenging time in Bengaluru FC’s footballing journey when former FC Barcelona assistant coach Albert Roca became the manager of the I-League champions.
The Blues had just parted ways with their long-time manager Ashley Westwood and the team were about to play in the AFC Cup quarterfinals for the first time. Four months have passed since his appointment and Albert Roca is just a match away from becoming the first ever manager to guide an Indian club to the AFC Cup title.
Speaking to HT via email, Roca talked about the importance of the AFC Cup final with respect to Indian football, their preparations ahead of the match and also about his predecessor – Ashley Westwood.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. How does it feel to become the first Indian club to reach the AFC Cup final? How big an impact do you think this achievement will have on Indian football?
A. It’s a special feeling but the job is not finished. Yes, we have made history and while we are happy about it, we cannot take our eyes off the chance to do something even bigger. From the perspective of Indian football, this is a landmark achievement, one that has got Asia taking notice of the country. We will be doing everything in our abilities to go one step further.
Q. This is the first time in the competition that Bengaluru FC will be facing a team from west Asia. How will you rate Iraq Air Force Club? How are you preparing for the physical style of play that they are known for?
A. The teams from the west have always been strong and I don’t expect Iraq Air Force Club to be any different. We will have to be solid in every department on the pitch if we are to take this game to them.
Q. Are you preparing for this final as any other game or are you getting the team to do anything different?
A. We’ve put in so much effort into every game that we’ve played and that stays the same in the build-up to this one. The staff has worked hard behind the scenes and the boys have never given me anything less on the pitch. We have got to stick to our strengths and play without fear.
Q. Your thoughts on Ashley Westwood’s contribution in making Bengaluru FC a dominant force in Indian football. How different is your style of football from that of Westwood’s?
A. Ashley has done a good job during his tenure and that is clear from the trophies he has won with the team. But the club is now going through a transition and we are here to build on the success that Bengaluru has had. Each coach brings his own style and system to a club and that’s no different in my case. We’ve worked hard in a very short span of time and now find ourselves with a good chance to write a special chapter in the club and India’s football history.
Q. With Barcelona, you won the Champions League. Now you are on the threshold of making history with an Indian club. Even though the levels of competition are totally different, going into the final do you feel like you did ahead of that final against Arsenal?
A. A final is a final. So yes, it feels nice to have made it to this stage of the tournament. This final is such a big deal for Indian football. The fact that we became the first club from the country to make an AFC competition final was really big but now we have the chance to go one step better. Whichever way this ends, Bengaluru FC making it this far has been a very special landmark for football in the country.