In the 1986 World Cup, I still remember watching the wily Emili Butragueno on TV and his hat-trick, as Spain hammered Denmark 5-1. In their traditional red shirts, Spain was superb. Surprisingly, they were knocked out by Belgium in the tie-breaker in the knock-out stage.
Failure in bigger events has haunted Spain in later years also as expectations always weighed them down. In fact, before 2008, the Spanish team was always considered as rank outsiders. They would play excellent football but in the end would fizzle out and walk back home as chokers despite having some of the world’s best players in their team.
I also had this feeling that they will never be world champions before they proved everybody wrong two years ago.
Actually, thanks to Barcelona and their La Masia, things started changing for Spanish football in the 2000s when the Catalans imported the Dutch-inspired passing style in late 1970s in their grass-root programme, which was eventually adopted by the national team.
Spain’s famed “Tiki Taka” style is now the much-discussed topic among the game’s strategists. The technique invented by the Dutch legend Johan Cruyff from his Ajax Academy made everybody sit up and take notice.
With Barçelona, Cruyff worked with a completely remodelled side and immediately had his team play attractive football which paid dividends. But, this didn’t just happen with the first team, the youth teams also displayed that same attacking style, something that made it easier for the reserve players to make the switch to the first team football.
Without a doubt, such in-depth strengthening of the squad was one of the areas that best explains why the Dutch was such a huge success with Barcelona. But, in the end, it was Spanish football which gained a lot from La Masia’s excellent run.
After Wim Koevermans’ appointment as India’s new national coach last week, it has forced us to rethink if this Dutchman will introduce a similar variety to Indian football. If he successfully creates a new pattern and style for our young players at the grass-root level, I’m sure it will help the future teams.
But the former Dutch player will have to devote plenty of time and energy to identify a new playing style and revamp the system.
Before Koevermans, former coach Bob Houghton had toiled hard to bring all the club coaches under one umbrella. The Englishman also tried to convince to the clubs that if a uniform style is followed at the club level, things become easier for the national coach.
Without hurting the sentiment of our own Indian coaches, let’s accept this fact, barring the respected Amal Dutta, most of them aren’t educated at the basic level. So, let’s not blink to the fact that our coaches seriously lack the knowledge of modern football. I won’t name but one top coach simply refused to go for the AFC training.
Houghton was specific about his own ideas and practices. He didn’t struggle much while implementing his theory because of his vast experience as a well-traveled tactician. But,sadly he lacked the support from the clubs who will always be in their own worlds.
Mohun Bagan, East Bengal think they are the pillars of Indian football. Dempo, after their recent success in domestic leagues, too has become vocal about their priorities. Some like Mahindra United and JCT became so frustrated that they decided to shut their shops.
But it’s not prudent to blame the clubs alone as they don’t get publicity by playing in the national league. Almost all the matches barring the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan have modest TV ratings. Half of the time, the telecast schedule is pathetic and, the clubs don’t get revenues from the I-League which is also without a sponsor.
The clubs, who spend huge from their sponsors’ pockets, invariably end up with a fracas with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) who seldom cared about improving the standards.
Koevermans is going to have a tough time in making these clubs understand the need for a concrete system. But still, considering his credentials (he has produced players Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder during his stint as Holland’s youth coach), he will be able to show us the right direction.