32 year old Australian Arthur Papas was last month named as the chief coach of the India Under-22 national team for the Under-22 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in which India have been drawn in Group A along with the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Oman, Turkmenistan and Lebanon. I caught-up with the young Australian to get to know more about him and his ideas about football while he prepares the India Under-22s for their assignment in Oman.
Congratulations on being appointed India Under-22 national coach. Were you yourself surprised about the appointment?
No, not necessarily surprised Arunava. More the timeframe from agreeing to beginning was surprising; meaning along the lines of having such minimal time to prepare for a tournament considering the squad had already been in camp for some time. Balancing this tournament’s immediate needs whilst at the same time not losing sight of a big picture that is shaping Indian football in terms of the style of football for a long term gain and using this tournament as part of this long term process.
Personally, I’m very humbled and honoured to be offered the position to lead the Indian U-22 National Team as well as the Pailan Arrows. I look forward optimistically to playing a role in this future development.
You have seen the India Under-22 team only a few times in training. Your first impression?
Again, with such minimal time spent together, to develop long lasting impressions is still at a formation stage. On the positive, I can see clearly that the players I am working with have a good mentality, show an open mind to the methods being implemented and in addition a willingness to learn. These are traits you always look for in the youth footballer so it is positive to find this amongst the playing group.
It’s important to remember that this is still a youth group of players and when dealing with this age group you need to maintain patience, especially in our circumstance where we are looking to implement a new system. I have to accept that along the way there will be mistakes made and this is a part of the learning process, which, in the long-term, will see them become more complete footballers for the Indian Senior National team.
Main areas I see that over the long-term phase of their development need to improve are the approach to specific football conditioning, and the tactical intelligence to solve problems as quick as possible. For example, for this tournament I have had to be very careful with how much I can increase the training because already the intensity of the training is higher. So I have had to adjust to ensure we do not incur any injuries because of this jump in such a short space of time. If I was to ignore this side of the training, then I would place at risk some of India’s finest playing talents for one single tournament, this is not my approach!
What will you try to do in the short time you have ahead of the AFC Under-22 Championship qualifiers in Oman? What’s your aim for the tournament?
In the short term I am introducing them to a new system of play, which in a nutshell is based on a more possession-based proactive style of football. This is a big part of my coaching philosophy and in line with the changes sweeping through Indian football since Rob Baan became Technical Director.
For this tournament, I am certain we will see glimpses of this change in style but it should be remembered that fundamental change does not occur from 10 training sessions. So, what I am looking for in this tournament is the overall intention of the playing group to try and implement this style of football in pressure situations against top quality countries. In realistic terms, this is all you can ask for taking into consideration the time spent together, minimal practice matches played which unfortunately has been an issue for us against the many years these boys have spent developing an opposite style of thinking for football. It takes time, patience and direction!
To give you an example of the challenge ahead for this tournament Australia’s Olympic Team was matched with Iraq, UAE plus Uzbekistan in the Olympic Qualifiers and failed to score a single goal in the whole qualifying stage. Australia currently ranks 24th in the FIFA world rankings so this makes you understand very quickly the challenge ahead for this tournament plus how much the standard has improved across Asia over the last 3-4 years. We need to keep evolving with this or else will get left further behind. Some short-term pain might be needed to reach long-term objectives!
On another note, this tournament also lays the platform towards the approach that Pailan Arrows will be implementing for the 2012/2013 I-League season. I am convinced that this is when you will really begin to see the style in its full effect.
Of course we want and will push for as many positive results as possible in this tournament but more than anything we want to see as many players from this team graduate to play for the Indian Senior National Team, not only play for the National Team but play in a way that gives us the possibility to really make a jump in our standing in world football for the long term benefit of India.
Did you know anything about Indian football before going to India?
At the point of first contact, no I didn’t have a large amount of knowledge about the game in India. However, after researching as well as various experiences through Asia whilst with Australia, I quickly began to see the potential that a country like India possessed if it at the same time developed a long-term strategy from the grassroots level right through to the National Team.
Therefore, having someone like Rob Baan enticed me further because I saw first hand the impact he had in Australia during his tenure as Technical Director and I have confidence that India is on the right track when they can bring in someone of Rob’s pedigree.
Since arriving though, I am learning every day and doing my utmost to understand all the functionalities across the various states, I-League, National Teams and so far my experiences have been very pleasant and the Indian people have a lot of passion to see the game progress in India. As long as we all keep walking in the same direction then the future becomes brighter every day!
Thank you for the interview and all the best in the qualifiers!
Published with permission from Arunava about Football.