Hyderabad FC will be facing off against Rajasthan United in the quarter-finals of Durand Cup in Kolkata on Monday.
While coach Manuel Márquez Roca, fondly known as Manolo, is focussed on the upcoming match and wants the team to give its best during the encounter, the coach couldn’t help but stress on how impressed he has been with Manipur’s footballing community during a virtual interaction with TOI last week.
The defending Indian Super League (ISL) champions were placed in Group C with TRAU FC, NEROCA FC, Chennaiyin FC, Army Red FT and played their group matches at Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal and it was quite an experience for the ISL champions.
“It was fantastic and really wonderful. Manipur doesn’t have any team in ISL but they are the state to have the highest number of players in the tournaments. Football is very important for them even more than cricket. The fans came to receive us at the airport and it was an incredible feeling. Even during the match against NEROCA, the stadium was completely full and atmosphere was fantastic,” said Manolo.
“We shared our hotel with Chennaiyin FC in Imphal and their coach Thomas Brdaric also shared the same feeling. The pitch is also in good conditions,” he added.
Keeping aside their participation in the tournament, the coach along with some of the players also visited a football club in Bishnupur ahead of the tournament.
Asked if the team management has any special plans in mind for the region, Varun Tripuraneni, Hyderabad FC co-owner, said, “We have been doing trials all across the country and definitely want to build our fanbase and reach all over India.”
Meanwhile, as far as Durand Cup is concerned, the coach sounded quite pleased with the team’s showing. Although they lost their last group game against Army Red, they won other three quite convincingly.
Asked why is he fielding his first team while many of the ISL teams fielded their B teams, the Spaniard said, “Teams played with B teams because the experience of playing the tournament wasn’t really good last season and many of the clubs lost a number of players due to injury. Also, this year the weather hasn’t been great and the pitches are also not in good condition. Despite knowing this we wanted all our players to have a good preparation ahead of ISL.”
The coach meanwhile didn’t want to take any sides as far as the new format of ISL is concerned which will see top six teams qualify for the playoffs.
“You never know how the new playoffs rule will affect the tournament. Advantage is that more teams can fight till the last moment. But disadvantage is that it’s not fair that the team which finishes sixth in the regular season can become champions in the end,” said Manolo, who has been with Hyderabad FC since 2020.
He, however, was more than happy with the longer football season but wanted to see the tournaments mix up. “It would be good if you mix up the competitions. It is difficult but it would be good if we can play some of the matches of Super Cup in between ISL.”
As far as the Indian players are concerned, the coach said that the likes of the Anirudh Thapa, Anwar Ali and Naorem Roshan Singh look really promising. But he does have a suggestion for them. “Indian players must improve their mentality to become better,” he said.
Hopefully it will happen in due course, for now it’s all about hard work.


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By Dipak

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