By Soumo Ghosh,

AIFF Media

NEW DELHI: Indian top flight football has taken to the Spanish flavour, with seven of the 21 teams in the Indian Super League and the I-League signing coaches from the Iberian peninsula. NEROCA FC, who surprised one and all with a second-place finish in their maiden I-League campaign last season, have also followed the trend by bringing in the expertise of Manuel Retamero Fraile.

Having made his mark as the head coach at the Real Valladolid B and Bahrain U-17 teams, Retamero made his first appearance in the I-League dugout in the 2015/16 season, when he took up the top job at the then top-division newbies Aizawl FC.

Having spent a couple of seasons in Ulaanbaatar FC in Mongolia, the 43-year-old Spaniard is back in India again, leading the NEROCA FC side that is currently harbouring ambitions of winning the league.

With the 2018/19 I-League season just around the corner, caught up with Manuel Retamero. Here are some excerpts from our exclusive conversation with him.

After two years, you are back in the I-League again. How does it feel to be back in India?

It’s great to be back in India again. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here two years back when I was in Aizawl and now I’m raring to have a go at the I-League again. I’ve received a lot of calls and messages from players, fans, and journalists from India, over the last two years. They were all asking me to come back. Now, finally, thanks to NEROCA, I’m back in this country again. I’m very proud that they have called me here.

One good thing that I’ve seen in Manipur is that the players here know their football and are ready to play an expansive form of the game. That is one of my main objectives here – to ensure that the local players progress through the ranks and become top athletes in a few years.

How are the preparations for the upcoming season going on?

It’s difficult as everyone has to adjust new things here. We have a new coach, i.e. me, so the players have to get used to my system. Also, we have a number of new players, both Indian and foreign, so they all have to get used to how things are done at NEROCA.

We have also played a lot of friendlies in the pre-season, something that is crucial, when you want your players to hit the ground running once the I-League starts. I managed to get a good assessment of the players in these matches and I think we are now ready to take on whoever we face in the league.

Back in your Aizawl days, your side was known to play an expansive game. Can we expect more of the same from NEROCA this time?

I always like my teams to keep possession of the ball and play the game in an entertaining manner. if you don’t have the ball, you do not score goals. That is why I want my team to keep possession, score goals and win matches.

Many journalists have asked me about my philosophy of football. I’ve always said that you do not always need physically imposing players to win matches. You could have players with a shorter build but if they are comfortable on the ball, then you can dominate the game. Look at players like David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Andres Iniesta or Xavi. They are all small in stature but their control over the ball is so good that it is very difficult to snatch the ball from them.

That does not mean that my team will start playing like Barcelona all of a sudden. We have to be realistic about things as well. But what we will try to do is play an entertaining brand of football, that the fans can also enjoy.

NEROCA surprised one and all by finishing second last season. Is there pressure on you to win the league this year?

We finished second in 2017/18, and obviously this time around, the aim will be to go one better. But again, the emphasis is more on developing the club and its players.

Of course, we can improve and that is something that is paramount to our objectives here. If we can get more people to like us, and our brand of football, it will eventually be better for the sport in these parts of the country.

What’s your take on the NEROCA supporters, from what you have seen during the pre-season, so far?

To be honest, they (the NEROCA fans) want the club to improve as a whole. They themselves want to grow with the club as well. That is something that makes this club quite unique, I believe.

One great thing is that the management is really on-board when it comes to bringing in new changes to the club. We are a relatively new club, in terms of the top division, so there’s a lot to be worked on. To be honest, I love it when the management has this kind of an approach.

The fans are also amazing here. When I arrived in Imphal, they gave me a hearty welcome. They were singing my name and were very happy that I had arrived. It’s always good to see such an atmosphere, both as a player and as a coach. These are small things but they always give you a boost.