WThe 2022-23 Indian Super League (ISL) ended last month, four of the 11 teams had Spanish coaches, four were English and two nations met in the title decider. Spain triumphed, but more so did ATK Mohun Bagan and Juan Ferrando, who, at 42, holds the title of one of the world’s oldest football cities. Kolkata has clubs that date back to the 19th century, derbies that can attract more than 100,000 and is the spiritual home of the game in India.
“It’s not just a game, football in Kolkata is part of the family’s culture, colors, feelings,” Ferrando says. “It is something generational and passed down from parents to children over the years. Life cannot be understood without it and must be experienced in order to understand it.
He now understands more after winning the final against Bengaluru. The ISL began in 2014 as a glamorous, traditional and short-lived alternative to the top of the football pyramid, in I-Achaici. It took almost a decade, some of the first stars that brought in Alessandro Del Piero, Nicolas Anelka and Robert Pires, but it was in the top tier of Indian football with trips to the Champions League for the Asian winners.
The next challenge will be Mohun Bagan, but Ferrando has already come a long way. “I spent 11 years as a football player, from the age of eight, before a big injury made me leave the field,” he said. “I felt coaching was to try football from a different side.” His first experience came at 22 in the Espanyol academy. He then moved through Spanish clubs, including Barcelona, and left Málaga’s technical staff in 2013 for Moldavian champions Sheriff Tiraspol.
This was the start of an unusual journey and included a stop in 2010 at Arsenal, where he worked as a fitness coach under Arsene Wenger. “Working at shipyards is a great experience, both personally and professionally.” As a Premier League club, it has a very organized structure and high-level professionals who have the same goal as the team and mainly from players who have progressed in the first team and from the team.” Ferrando had plenty of congratulatory messages from the Patriots coaches and one of his a Mikel Arteta loved to send this May. “I’m happy to see the club shine under another Spanish coach at the top of the table now,” he said.
In the following season under Gus Poyet at Brighton, as well as the older parts returned home, in Moldavia and in Greece Ferrando helped a lot with India, a country unlike anything with a football scene that is little different. “The target language is what unites us all in the dressing room. I have been able to learn from different experiences from different people, circumstances, environments and cultures. After coming to Goa in 2021, he moved from the west coast to the east last year at ATK. “I was amazed at how much everyone wanted to help, learn and improve from the first day I went down to India. Indian culture is very friendly.”
Going from Goa to Kolkata was an opportunity to challenge for the title, although the city of Mumbai cast a huge shadow on that ambition. They were the champions, at the end of the 20-game regular season they took first place and beat the team in the playoffs. Coached by Des Buckingham, this member of the city’s Football team met Simon Grayson of Bengaluru in the semi-finals (Aidy Boothroyd at Jamshedpur and former India coach Stephen Constantine completed the quarter-finals in English East Bengal). Grayson’s team won 9-8 on penalty kicks after two legs ended 2-2.
In contrast to the Spanish, on the part of Duke Ferrando, whose team finished third in the regular season, 12 points behind Mumbai, he saw two of his compatriots. First, Mohun Bagan Josep Gombau beat Odisha 2-0, then Manolo Márquez crushed Hyderabad, winning in front of more than 50,000 fans, to reach the final against Bengaluru.
He’s not a fan of all the games, especially more than half the team there, but the drama is worth it. “They’re different than I’m used to,” said Ferrando. “As I see it, the regular season is more important than the knockouts, because on a bad day you can lose a match, but the season just allows you to show the value of the group throughout the season. But there is a way to enjoy the time more and be more active.
The last game is the biggest in South Asia, a country of two billion people. “The final show is still days away. The atmosphere is a special buffer and the coaching staff must keep a cool head in the game while the emotions run high from the first moment.
Bengaluru were 2-1 ahead with five minutes remaining after Sunil Chhetri and Roy Krishna responded to an early goal from Australia’s Dimitri Petratos, but Petratos then equalized to take the game to extra time then on penalties. “I just said: ‘I like it at the end,’” Ferrando says. “I told them I’m confident they can do it, we’ll make it a game.”