Don’t know if we’re ready for Asian Champions League: FC Goa coach Juan Ferrando
“My muscles are very, very tired. This is for me a big problem,” said Juan Ferrando, palms turned up. Recovering from Covid-19, the 40-year-old FC Goa coach’s agony at not being 100% though is nothing compared to the ecstasy of playing in the Asian Champions League. Players have complained of cabin fever and have spoken of being away from families for over six months, but everytime the Spaniard hears such conversations, “I tell them, “stop it, stop it, you are in the Champions League”.”
Along with Iran’s Persepolis, runners-up last year, Qatar’s Al Rayyan and the winners of Al Wahda (UAE) and Al-Zawraa (Iraq) qualifier, FC Goa complete group E. They will be the first Indian team at Asian football’s high table. Goa will host this group, and ahead of their April 14 opener against Al Rayyan, coached by 1998 French World Cup-winning centre-back Laurent Blanc, Ferrando shared his views in a virtual interview.
How does it feel to be in charge of the first Indian team in the Champions League group stages?
It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s my first time in India and in this club. After six months, I know the players and the club but it’s a big responsibility because this is not a local competition but an international one. It will be like a presentation of Indian football to the world. All the players have to be focused to work like a team, to be ready for 90 minutes. The most important thing is to take everything day by day. It’s not just about the first or the second game; there are six games (in 16 days), all of which are very important for us.
Does it help that you are playing at home?
(It helps) when you have supporters. When the stadium is empty, you play here, at Stamford Bridge or at Old Trafford, it’s the same. Statistics show that normally teams that play at home win more but now without supporters, the balance is similar. (FC Goa skipper Edu Bedia told a media conference on Tuesday that the weather would be an advantage).
In Indian Super League (ISL), FC Goa got points after trailing, but also conceded 23 goals in the league phase. How ready is the team defensively?
It’s difficult but we are thinking of playing the same style. If we concede one goal, our target is to do two. Okay, I understand the big squad of the opponents and we do need to work more in defence and run more but the responsibility is not only for (goalkeepers) Dheeraj (Singh), Naveen (Kumar), (defenders) Adil (Khan), James (Donachie). It lies with everyone. If Igor (Angulo) plays as No. 9, he is our first defence. If Ishan (Pandita) plays as No. 9, he is our first defence.
Your group stage opponents have a lot of experience at this level.
It’s very, very difficult. They have very good players and a lot of experience in this competition. For them, it is a big moment to play in the group stage and progress to the next round. For us, it’s a great opportunity to learn, get some experience, and for our local players, to know about an international competition. It’s different—you need to focus for 90 minutes, work like a team. In ISL, you have two-three players who have good crosses, good dribbling, they can help the team; in international competitions, you need to be a team, that’s very important.
Does India losing 0-6 to UAE in a friendly add to the responsibility of taking an Indian team to the Champions League?
When you lose games 6-0 or 5-0 it is difficult…sometimes I talk about this as it is a big responsibility because at the moment as a club we don’t know if we are ready to participate in this competition. My focus, of course, is now to prepare the club because it is a lot of games, six games in 20 (16) days. It is necessary to be strong here (points to his head).
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In ISL, FC Goa tried to keep the ball and play out from the back. Can we expect the same in the Champions League?
Around this time one year ago when I was talking to Akshay (Tandon, president) and Ravi (Puskur, director of football) they told me: “be clear, FC Goa wants to play in one style, in Champions League, ISL, the Super Cup next season”. Of course, we will change some details. Of course, it is necessary to focus on defence, details in build-up, pressing and position in attack. But the style, more or less, will be the same because it is in our mind. We love football in this way.
Going into the competition what are the areas you need to improve?
It is necessary to improve more in set-pieces because we know we have a problem, but this problem (FC Goa shipped 16 goals from set-pieces in ISL, the maximum among the semi-finalists) is not because they are bad players. Sometimes it is necessary to learn when you go zone (zonal marking), when you go man to man. We have a lot of young players who don’t know about these details.
You have been in India for a season. What aspects do Indian teams need to improve in?
The most important thing is to focus for 90 minutes. The difference between an Asian and European team is that a European team is working for 90 minutes and they forget the extra things. Here, for example, when a referee makes a decision, some players keep thinking about that for two or three minutes. Or, for example, when you want to make a substitution, the player often needs two-three minutes to understand his role once he enters the pitch. We need to improve in these points.
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Before joining FC Goa, if someone had said you would be playing the Asian Champions League in 2021, what would you have said?
When I was talking with Ravi, I never spoke about the salary. I said, “We will play in the Champions League, so it’s okay. Let’s go, let’s go.” It’s a pleasure. I have experience because I worked in the group stage of the Europa League. For me, it is the best moment in my life to participate in this competition. It’s a great moment for the players, the club and the country.