Indian football’s experimentation continues unabated as the national federation looks keen to give the game a right direction. In fact, experimenting with different coaching modules is nothing new in Indian football. Like Indian athletics, where central Russians coaches dominated, Indian football federation have traversed every new space since last 50 years. German, East European, English and Russian coaches were hired to upgrade a football system which certainly isn’t the best in Asia.
Ciric Milovan in the early 80s probably threw an idea about modernizing Indian football which he felt had everything but lacked a vision. Milovan had the best batch of star players who were equally talented and skillful unlike the present bunch. But what was lacking in them was self-belief and confidence. During his short contract for little over a year, Milovan’s presence boosted the team which also qualified for Asian Cup in 1985.
But then that was it. While everybody seemed convinced about his acumen in implementing the basics, Milovan quietly left the Indian job.
The 1990s saw Indian football again dumped in the cold. Lack of knowledge in the federation probably caused more damage to the game. East European coaches like Jiri Pesek and Joseph Gelei came for short terms. They were followed by Uzbek coach Rustam Akhramov who was dwarfed by his lack of English knowledge.
Actually, none could create anything which could have benefited Indian football. Particularly, when you are managing a football team of a vast country like India, a foreign coach need to understand a lot of things including the socio-cultural background of every footballer.
It was only after English coach Bob Houghton took over in 2006, that Indian football could stand on its feeble feet for a brief period. His focus was on a set team or pool of players who could be groomed for future. But then the Indian team from 2006 till 2011 had lot of players who were either injury prone or over the hill and included very few U-19 or U-23 players. Besides, he always skipped I-League or Fed Cup matches which meant that proper scouting wasn’t done during his era.
But still, Houghton’s association with the Indian team had been a fruitful one. Backed by his trusted comrade Baichung Bhutia, the English coach enjoyed an enviable position. He became a larger than life persona which often overlooked the federation. His ‘English’ thoughts were bold enough to change the game in India. Two back-to-back Nehru Cup wins and a ticket to Asian Cup after 25 year grabbed more media space. Even the common football fan had started to believe that the former Malmlo FC coach was more committed than any other past foreign coaches. But his unreasonable salary demands irked the federation so much that both the parties decided to part ways.
Rob Baan’s entry into Indian football last year meant that we’d already shifted from English to the Dutch philosophy. Baan may have an idea to rejuvenate the system with his academy-based structure where the basics will be spruced up.
But such diversified plans need dedicated and honest personnel who can churn out success for him. Given his vast experience in youth football, Baan may succeed. But unlike Houghton and like any other coaches, the Dutch would need plenty of time. Besides, the diminutive Dutch should also ensure that whoever leads the academy programmes, he must possess a sound knowledge about the socio-economic and socio-cultural background of Indian kids. That’s more important than just making them kick around.