For Carles Cuadrat, it couldn’t have been a more fitting Indian Super League finale than facing his good old friend Sergio Lobera.
Way before taking over the reins from Zico at FC Goa, it was Lobera who convinced his Spanish counterpart to sign a contract in India as an assistant to then Bengaluru FC manager Albert Roca; just like he did for Josep Gombau, who had signed for Delhi Dynamos.
“I am very grateful to Sergio because before I moved to Bengaluru, I spoke with him over coffee and he said ‘Just do it’. He convinced me that it would be the right decision. It’s a special moment especially now because we meet each other in the final,” Cuadrat revealed in the pre-match press conference.
Having spent many years together at Barcelona’s renowned youth set-up, nurturing many fine players, destiny now finds the duo at the crossroads with one another. But history beckons on Sunday as they both aim to taste their first-ever silverware with their respective clubs.
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“It will certainly be interesting as we have shared a lot of good moments earlier together. I am pretty ambitious and looking forward to facing Bengaluru,” said Lobera.
Cuadrat knows the heartbreak of a final, having watched closely from the sidelines when Chennaiyin FC made a sensational comeback to beat Bengaluru in last year’s finale.
Lobera endured the same agony, being knocked out from the same opponents in the semi-finals after an impressive first season with the Gaurs.
“Last season was a lesson, we played good football through the season, but lost the final, the most important game of the season.
“I was in the tribune of the Camp Nou in the 1999 Champions League final. Bayern Munich was winning 1-0, nothing was happening and then in a few moments, Manchester United scored twice and took the trophy. One moment you have a hand on the trophy, and then in another moment, the other team is celebrating with it. That is football, and we have to see what happens.” said the Bengaluru boss.
Test of character
Having made the cut based on merit, there is little to separate both sides who finished the league with the same amount of wins, draws and defeats; although Bengaluru topped the table with a superior head-to-head record.
While Cuadrat and Lobera have very different personalities and approaches, there is no denying that both their sides share similar characteristics - a lethal frontline, a rock-solid defence and a dominant midfield that can operate in tight spaces. The Blues have claimed the bragging rights after completing the double over Goa but Sunday’s clash will prove to be a true test of character and big-game mentality.
“I think tactics will be important in the final. But there will be other factors like motivation, and psychological issues that will come in to play. It depends on how players can take these factors in stride. But tomorrow, the team which is best on the pitch, will take home the trophy,” said Lobera.
Cuadrat echoed similar views and promised Sunday’s contest will be a different ball game, along with denying that his side were favourites.
“I know my players. They are eager to play for titles, and they are eager to win trophies. I want them to be calm, to play well and to manage the game in a way that will help us. Finals, in general, bring out one special performance. It happens all over in the history of football. Some players shine spectacularly in the big games. We have players like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh, Udanta and many others who can shine. The problem is that Goa also have many players who can have a great game,” he added.
Thriving in those big moments is all that will matter at the end of ninety minutes tomorrow at the Mumbai Football Arena. Not the form you had, not the points you won in the league, not the goals you scored and the clean sheets you kept but how respond when it matters the most.
For two best friends, tomorrow will serve one agony and ecstasy for the other.