Tem­pered Ex­pec­ta­tions

To in­crease the pool of tal­ented play­ers, “The Over­seas Scout­ing” project was launched as a joint ven­ture be­tween the All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion and the Sports Author­ity of In­dia

The Day After - - CONTENT - By Novy Ka­pa­dia (AuWhor is a well known FooWball wriWer anT has re­cenWly pub­lisheT book Bare­fooW Wo BooWsJ The Many Lives of InTian FooWball) FeeTback onJre­porWer@Tayaf­ter­inTia.com

Long-term prepa­ra­tion of age-group na­tional teams is now a reg­u­lar and wel­come fea­ture in In­dian foot­ball and can lead to a bet­ter fu­ture. For the U-17 World Cup to be held in six cities in In­dia for the first time in Oc­to­ber 2017, a squad of tal­ented young­sters has been train­ing for two years. Play­ers from the north­east, in­clud­ing 11 from Ma­nipur, are part of In­dia’s U-17 squad.

To in­crease the pool of tal­ented play­ers, “The Over­seas Scout­ing” project was launched as a joint ven­ture be­tween the All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (AIFF) and the Sports Author­ity of In­dia (SAI). Sons of non-res­i­dent In­di­ans could send videos of their matches and ex­perts de­cided if they could be cho­sen for the na­tional squad. Many ap­plied and the mis­sion was suc­cess­ful, as there are two new re­cruits in the In­dian U-17 World Cup squad: Canada-based goal­keeper Sunny Dhali­wal and US-based Namit Desh­pande. Dhali­wal, a six-foot-fiveinch goal­keeper, has played for youth teams of Ma­jor League Soc­cer (MLS) side Toronto FC.

Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer of the In­dian U-17 World Cup Squad, ex-in­ter­na­tional Ab­hishek Ya­dav, is pos­i­tive about get­ting over­seas play­ers in the na­tional squad. He says: “Over­seas play­ers bring di­ver­sity into the team. They have a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive; they have grown up play­ing against dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties, are used to a dif­fer­ent cli­mate.”

The AIFF has left no stone un­turned to pre­pare the In­dian team for the U-17 World Cup. For­mer Chief Coach Ni­co­lai Adam (Ger­many) had chalked out an ex­ten­sive train­ing sched­ule with ex­po­sure trips to var­i­ous coun­tries and tour­na­ment ex­pe­ri­ence in 2016. They played matches in Dubai and South Africa and par­tic­i­pated in the AIFF Youth Cup in May 2016 against qual­ity teams like South Korea and USA. Next there were prac­tice matches in Ger­many in June and July. In­dia was pit­ted in the group of death, in Group A of the AFC U-16 Cham­pi­onships, in Septem­ber 2016, along­side the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE), Saudi Ara­bia and Iran. They lost nar­rowly to Saudi Ara­bia and held UAE to a thrilling draw but lost 0-3 to Iran and failed to reach the semi-fi­nals.

Adam’s boys then par­tic­i­pated in the BRICS U-17 foot­ball tour­na­ment in Oc­to­ber 2016 in Goa where they could not get past the group stage, los­ing nar­rowly to Rus­sia and China, but get­ting out­classed by a strong Brazil­ian side. The team next went to Brazil and fin­ished third in the Atletico Paranaense U-17 In­ter­na­tional Tour­na­ment in De­cem­ber 2016.

On ex­po­sure trips, train­ing

camps, tour­na­ments, kit and diet, the AIFF spent nearly `8 crore ($1.2 mil­lion) in two years since Adams took over in July 2015. How­ever, the im­broglio over Adam’s de­par­ture in Jan­uary 2017 stirred a hor­net’s nest. In 2015, when Adam came to In­dia, he was hailed as the best age-group coach in the world. His com­mit­ment was ev­i­dent as he did not re­turn home to at­tend his fa­ther’s fu­neral last year dur­ing the Asian U-16 cham­pi­onships.

The team was shap­ing up well and was play­ing mod­ern foot­ball, re­ly­ing on speed and build­ing from the back. The only ap­par­ent weak­nesses were ab­sence of a con­sis­tent striker and at times lack of or­gan­i­sa­tion in de­fence.

The AIFF show-caused Adam be­cause of a let­ter signed by the en­tire U-17 squad com­plain­ing of phys­i­cal and racial abuse by the coach and his as­sis­tant, Etibar Nizami Ibrahi­mov. Adam chose about 90 per cent of the play­ers in the squad. So it is not log­i­cal that the coach and his as­sis­tant sud­denly be­came hos­tile to them. Did the boys over­re­act to harsh words or did they sim­ply rebel against a coach who was a hard task mas­ter?

If Adams was a ruthless and abu­sive coach, then the three In­di­ans in the sup­port staff should have in­ter­vened and ei­ther talked to the coach or re­ported it to the AIFF. These are some of the un­com­fort­able ex­pla­na­tions that the Union Sports Min­istry sought as they bore 30 per cent of Adam’s salary, which was 12,000 euros per month, in­clu­sive of taxes.

Player power fi­nally pre­vailed and Adams and the AIFF parted ways by mu­tual con­sent, af­ter the coach was given fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion. There were over a hun­dred ap­pli­ca­tions for the va­cant post, in­clud­ing fa­mous ex-in­ter­na­tional from Eng­land Stu­art Pearce. How­ever the AIFF fi­nally opted for the 63-year-old Por­tuguese coach Luís Nor­ton de Matos who has coached the Benefica B team and the na­tional team of Guinea Bis­sau dur­ing 2010-12 and was strongly rec­om­mended by Manch­ester United man­ager Jose Mour­inho.

Matos is like a fa­ther fig­ure to the play­ers and has made the team play more pos­ses­sion foot­ball. But he is also very re­al­is­tic. He has warned against great ex­pec­ta­tions. He said: “The dif­fer­ence be­tween our team and the rest of the teams is enor­mous.” Matos said that In­dia has not played enough matches against na­tional teams and lacks com­pet­i­tive tour­na­ment ex­pe­ri­ence.

In­dia is placed in a tough group, with the US, twice cham­pi­ons Ghana and Colom­bia. In­dia’s best bet of qual­i­fy­ing for the round of 16 is by fin­ish­ing among the four best third-placed teams. The top two from the six groups qual­ify for the next round along with the four best third-placed teams.

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