He had to leave midway. He came to conquer and left his work unfinished. And he has regrets of his own. Now he wants to come back to finish his ‘project’. Alejandro Menendez Garcia now speaks up on the eve of first ever Kolkata derby in the ISL.
In an exclusive chat with Indian Express, he reveals his aspirations, dreams and projects he would like to work on.
Do you miss Indian as well as Kolkata football?
Yes, I miss it. I decided to go to India for a great project that made me very excited, and I am aware that I excited many people. I miss the environment, the stadium, the team, the fans.
East Bengal, after being promoted to ISL, has roped in Robbie Fowler as coach. And SC EB will play their first match against ATK Mohun Bagan on 27 November. Are you going to watch the first ever Kolkata derby in the ISL? Do you still watch Indian football?
Yes, yes, I’ll see it. I am watching the ISL matches, and of course I will watch East Bengal. It is a very nice game to watch, and more so in the ISL. Derbies are always exciting.
Your coaching, philosophy, training methods were getting appreciated all over. And then you suddenly left. If you had stayed, you could have been East Bengal’s coach in the ISL. Do you have regrets for not having coached East Bengal in the top Indian league?
When I joined East Bengal, it was decided that the club would join the ISL. It was a matter of bureaucracy to remain in the I League. And in the second season, various conflicts made it clear that we would not join ISL either. I tried to professionalize the club and have a philosophy of the game of my own — not just to pursue wins but to generate a style and have a team ready to enter ISL.
In fact, during my tenure as coach, good Indian players like Joby Justin, Laldanmawia Ralte, Mehtab Singh, Kamalpreet Singh and a lot of youngsters broke through who are now maturing and have joined top teams. In the situation that the club was in, it was very difficult to work, and knowing that Quess was leaving, I could not continue working my way at the club.
Since you are such a big name as a coach and you have so much experience, why haven’t you tried a coaching role in the ISL? For example, Kibu Vicuna, after helping Mohun Bagan win I League, is now at the helm of Kerala Blasters.
I am looking for a project that does not only demands wins in every match match. I am looking for a club where I can have my work philosophy applied properly. I am looking for a club which will build their own legacy when I leave. I have been to big clubs in Spain and this is where my work has stood out the most: improving footballers and leaving a work philosophy marked out.
That has not yet been offered to me. Many clubs right now just want to win overnight. When they would look not for just immediate success but for a long term planning, I believe, they would succeed.
When you were coach of East Bengal, you relied on passing and pressing football, similar to the eye-pleasing Spanish style. Given that Robbie Fowler is English, he certainly would not follow the Spanish philosophy. What is your opinion on that? Which do you think is more suited to Indian football — Spanish or English flair?
English culture differs greatly from Spanish. And in football too. English soccer is based more on direct play, contact and effectiveness, and Spanish is more technical. Each coach transmits his own ideas. Each culture has its own style.
For Indian football, perhaps the Spanish style is more favourable because it involves learning process more, but it does not have to be more effective. If you work in the long term, Indian football will improve in the world rankings.
Have you ever met Robbie Fowler as a coach?
No, I have not been lucky enough to meet him. He is a legend as a footballer in Europe.
Can we expect to see you coaching in India soon?
I would like to. I never closed that door. I would like to finish that ‘project’ that I left in the middle. I am in touch with the players there and they always encourage me to come back.
How has your life been during the pandemic?
These have been difficult times worldwide. I live in the outskirts of the city and have been privileged enough to not be locked inside an apartment. I was with my family and was always worried about the situation.
Do you personally know Antonio Lopez Habas, Kibu Vicuña, Sergio Lobera or any of the Spanish coaches in the ISL?
I know all of them, Carles Cuadrat as well. I have a good relationship with everyone, although I know some of them more than others. For example, Antonio and I coincide in Spain at Celta de Vigo.
Apart from football, what does Kolkata mean to you?
My Kolkata experience has been very positive. I have always been comfortable in the city. I have felt loved and I lived there with the feeling that I would stay for a long time, although in the end it was not like that. The fans have always made me feel at home. And despite being in Spain, every day I receive messages from fans who keep showing me their love. I will be eternally grateful.
What is your message to East Bengal fans ahead of the Kolkata derby?
Well, the best way to encourage the team, the players and the coaching staff is for them to continue supporting the team even if they cannot be in the stadium. That helps the players a lot. They have to get that heat from the fans. The team has to see that they are proud of them.
What has been the best derby you were part of?
My first derby! East Bengal had not been able to beat Mohun Bagan for a long time. And the match was won by a narrow margin. That meant a lot to me, because of the fans, the struggle and the suffering before each training session. Seeing so much happiness in the stands full of fans, then they ran towards the field, hugged the players. It was very special moment in my career.