Carlos Pena – Building Academies Key For Development Of Football In India

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Carlos Pena has been one of the few privileged foreign players to win both the Super Cup as well as the League Shield during their time in India. The man under whose leadership FC Goa went on to win the League Shield in 2019-20 announced his retirement a few months later after adding both the major trophies in Indian Football to his trophy cabinet. The Spanish defender also finished as runners-up in 2018-19 in his first season as a Gaur.

Even after his retirement, Pena wasn’t able to keep himself away from the beautiful game as he has since gone on to work as an assistant coach in a Segunda B division team.

Carlos Pena

A native of Salamanca, Spain, Pena joined the Barcelona Academy as a teenager and went on to play for Barcelona’s C and B teams, and then some friendlies for the first team as well. Retrospecting on his time at Barca, Pena said, “The coaches there at the academies and junior teams made me into a player and improved me a lot. It was a great learning phase and surely helped me a lot in my future career”.

It’s not uncommon for fullbacks to have been wingers or forwards at a young age, but for Carlos Pena it was different. Growing up as a fan of Paolo Maldini, Pena says, unlike many other fullbacks he was always a defender, “No, from the beginning itself I was full-back, but in FC Goa I played as center-back. In Spain, I never switched my position.” Under Sergio Lobera, Pena was deployed as a center back alongside Mourtada Fall in the Goa defense.

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Speaking on what made him switch clubs at the twilight of his career to play in a completely different country, Pena said, “Before coming to India, I knew Edu and Corominas and asked them about FC Goa. I received a positive response from them and made my decision to come to India.”

Carlos Pena arrived in Goa in 2018 and in his first season, made it to the ISL final. However, what followed was a heartbreaking defeat to Bengaluru FC. Goa shrugged off the defeat soon after and a few months later went on to win the Super Cup, Pena’s first trophy in his India stint. Under Sergio Lobera, Goa won the League Shield the following season and Pena finished his incredible career with yet another silverware. The Spaniard was all praise for Lobera when asked about his experience playing under him, “I played under many coaches, not only Lobera. It was a great experience under each of them. His coaching style was something everyone at the club loved.”

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During his time at Goa, Pena shared his dressing room with two of Indian football’s future stars – Manvir Singh and Liston Colaco. Both, however, left Goa because of the lack of playtime and have achieved success elsewhere. Speaking on Manvir’s lack of minutes in Goa, Pena explained, “It was very difficult for him to have a place in the first eleven because he was playing in the same position as Corominas and it’s not easy to start ahead of him, as Coro has been one of the best strikers in the league. He had a few chances to play and in training, he was a very strong player and a hard worker. He always tried to do his best every time he played, but he didn’t have too many chances after all.” Manvir went on to sign for ATK Mohunbagan and has been one of the best Indian forwards this season scoring 7 goals in the tournament.

Another player who failed to thrive in Goa was Liston Colaco. The local boy was a part of the Goa setup from 2017 coming into the senior team after playing for their reserves. He went on to join Hyderabad FC to get minutes and was one of the emerging players this season in the ISL. Pena said, “Liston was very young when he was playing for FC Goa and so he didn’t have as many chances. He had to leave the club to play regularly at the top level. After some regular game time at the top level, he showed us that he’s a very good player. I realized when I was playing with him that his future was going to be very bright. He’s a great player, very fast, very technical, and a good dribbler as well. He is one of the best Indian players I have shared my dressing room with.” Pena’s standpoint for Liston was not incorrect as the former has gone on to become one of India’s brightest youngsters and recently bagged a massive contract with ATK Mohun Bagan.

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Pena continued with his view on Manvir and Liston, “Both of them had to move from Goa because playing regularly rather than 10 minutes every game gives you a lot of confidence. And confidence is very important. They left Goa after learning a lot and has used the knowledge well going on to become top-class players.”

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Carlos Pena also pointed out the difference between Spain’s footballing infrastructure and that of India during his conversation with IFTWC. “Well, I have seen the level in Spain, the footballing level and the fan following. The thing is not the same in India. Spain has won the World Cup and the Euros and the most important thing behind their success was their academies”. The vast league structure of Spain has allowed football academies to flourish to a massive extent. This has ensured that Spain has never had a shortage of talent in its squad.

Suggesting the key factors important for India to progress as a footballing nation, Carlos Pena exclaims, “The main thing is to have as many facilities as possible for both boys and girls. It needs to be easier to play football when you are at a young stage. So creating more academies is important for any footballing nation and India is no different.”

Carlos Pena concluded with his views on the prospect of football in India in the future saying, “India is a growing footballing nation. They are investing more money in the grassroots. They are going to improve for sure. I am certain that in the next 10 to 20 years India has the potential to be huge in terms of football.”


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Anurag Guha
Football fanatic and a sports buff.

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