Habas and Cuadrat; the Spaniard ringleaders of Indian football’s Big Two

Their personalities may be like chalk-and-cheese, but both have a common agenda

Habas, known for his successful stints in the ISL, faces the challenge of maintaining Mohun Bagan's legacy amid heightened expectations (photo: Mohun Bagan Super Giants; ISL)
Habas, known for his successful stints in the ISL, faces the challenge of maintaining Mohun Bagan's legacy amid heightened expectations (photo: Mohun Bagan Super Giants; ISL)
user

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The folklore of Kolkata Derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan has, over the decades, remained Indian club football’s biggest game – though their dominance at the national level has become sporadic with the launch of the Indian Super League (ISL) a decade back. It’s very much in keeping with the times, and the moneypower injected in the league marketed by the Reliance Group’s football marketing arm, that the crew of players and coaches have acquired a strong overseas feel now.

What has, of course, spiced it up is two Spaniard managers: Carles Cuadrat for Emami East Bengal and Juan Antonio Habas for Mohun Bagan Super Giants matching their wits from the dugouts – while at stake is the passion of legion of their fans across the country and the Indian diaspora throughout the globe. Their first meeting, in the first leg of ISL Derby in the city last Saturday, ended unresolved with a 2-2 draw but the second one is not too far away on March 10.

Cuadrat, a former La Masia product, brings a fresh perspective to East Bengal, aiming to revive the club's fortunes after a period of struggle (photo: @CarlesCuadrat/X)
Cuadrat, a former La Masia product, brings a fresh perspective to East Bengal, aiming to revive the club's fortunes after a period of struggle (photo: @CarlesCuadrat/X)
@CarlesCuadrat/X

For the oldtimers of Kolkata football, it can be bit of a cultural shock from those verbal battles of a ‘PK vs Amal Dutta’ or ‘Subhas Bhowmick vs Subrata Bhattacharya,’ but then times have changed. The build-up before each Derby is now fought more on the social media space while both these professional coaches – having proven track records in ISL itself – are now out to bolster their records.

‘’I am 100% sure that we deserved to win the game,’’ said Cuadrat, a La Masia product who comes from the same school of football as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi after a rather ill-tempered draw last Saturday. Habas, considered by Mohun Bagan supporters as the man with the Midas touch as he has given them two ISL crowns in the past, vented his ire on the referee – alleging the penalty award against them was too harsh.

Well, it’s the usual post-match rhetoric by both the Spanish coaches, who have been there, done that in Indian football. The taciturn Habas, now 66, guided the then ATK Mohun Bagan to ISL crown in the inaugural 2014 season itself and again in 2019-20 while they finished as runners-up the following year. Taking over from Juan Ferrando, the erstwhile Spanish coach after a string of poor results, the veteran coach now has the task of putting the fifth placed maroon-and-green giants’ campaign on track before it’s too late.

For the 55-year-old Cuadrat, whose chiselled figure with a trademark black T-shirt and trousers in the technical area makes for a symbol of hope with the East Bengal fans, the honeymoon period is still very much on.  The former defender, who guided Bengaluru FC to their only ISL crown so far, took over last April with the morale of the red-and-golden brigade certainly at it’s lowest ebb.

Just ponder this: they were on a eight-match losing streak in the Derby since 2019, finished at the bottom of ISL table in 2021-22 season while they were consigned to the bottom three every season since 2020. A national trophy had been eluding them for 12 agonising years while East Bengal were hit hard by sponsorship constraints with one corporate parting ways before they were bailed out by the Emami Group.  

It was hence completely with their backs to the wall that they came up against a fancied, heavy budget Mohun Bagan in the season-opening Durand Cup on a rain-soaked evening at the Vivekananda Yuvabharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium). Adopting a pragmatic formation masterminded by Cuadrat, they finally stemmed the rot with a 1-0 win as a tsunami of emotions swept the fans at the cavernous venue. Mohun Bagan avenged the defeat by the same margin in the final a month later but suddenly, the spring in the step of East Bengal team and will to fight was back.


East Bengal also ended the trophy-drought in style in the Kalinga Super Cup in Bhubaneshwar last month, sweeping Mohun Bagan 3-1 to make semi-finals on the way – while the title helped them to qualify for representing India in the preliminary round of AFC Champions League.

The last 10 months or so with East Bengal has seen Cuadrat grow in stature as a people’s coach – media savvy and ready to pose for a selfie with the fans. Habas, a bit of a chalk-and-cheese personality compared to his counterpart, is much more reticent and knows the expectations of the Mohun Bagan supporters will always be high of him after his past exploits.

The ISL being already halfway and Mohun Bagan in fifth position and their arch rivals eighth in the 12-team league, both coaches have challenging tasks at hands. The next month or so, before the league heads for a break for the Fifa World Cup qualifiers, will hence be a crucial one for the Spanish duo !

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines


;