In a bemusing turn of events at Kolkata, Steve Coppell, the head coach of the Kerala Blasters quipped that he was still “unclear” regarding the purpose of the Indian Super League. Speaking to the press ahead of tomorrow’s vital clash against Atletico de Kolkata, the Englishman felt that the short duration of the league doesn’t serve much purpose when it comes to really impacting the game in India.
“I have been here for 12 games now. But I find it hard to understand what the league is for. Is the purpose of developing players? Is the purpose of developing an interest in the game? Or is the purpose to play just 16-17 game and just finish? With me coming here, I hope that one of the prime purposes is to leave a legacy for the young players.”
Conditions for developing youngsters in India not that great
Lamenting about the situation of the sport in the country, Coppell felt that the facilities available to the youngsters in the country are at a minimum and hopes the ISL can change that as it continues to grow.
“I hope ISL takes the responsibility to develop the facilities for young players so that in five or ten years’ time India will have a football team to be proud of and at the very least be in the top 100 in the world,” said Coppell.
He further added that the league needs to grow, not only in terms of the calendar, but also the number of teams to make any real impact on the footballing culture of the country. Coppell also felt that moving forward, the number of Indians in the side has to go up from five per team and the sooner it happens, the better.
“If you were seeing Marcelinho in action on Sunday, you have to say he was a treat. But at the end of the day, he is a foreigner”, said the former Reading manager. “It’s the same in England. The top league is exciting, but most of the talent is foreign and that’s why at the end the national team is struggling.”
The former England international felt that the Indians need to get exposed to better competition and play more games.
“Even the player who are playing in the I-League get at the most 30 games in a season, while abroad that number goes upto nearly 50. So that number has to go up.”
Short calendar doesn’t help in creating any style of play
Speaking of the struggles that he has had to face regarding the short ISL calendar, Coppell felt that the tournament doesn’t allow for any style of play to develop.
“In England, we have a thirty-eight game season and it’s after playing 10 or 12 games does a team start to have a style of their own. However, over here, by the time we reach 10 or 12 games here the season in nearly over.
“Thus, it becomes vitally important to find the best combination of players right at the beginning of the season.”
Kerala have made a sterling comeback this season. After winning only one of their opening five games, many felt that this would be another long season for the Yellow Army after finishing at the bottom of the table last season. However, four wins from their last seven games and three from their last four now have them seated fourth on the table with a chance to move a further two places forward if they grab three points from their next encounter.
However, the former Manchester United man felt that the team was never far away from the front-runners in this year’s competition.
“Since I have been here, our performances I have felt that our performances have been judged by points rather than,” said Coppell. “In our first two games away to NorthEast and Kolkata, we were very unlucky and lost via deflected shots. We were never miles behind the opposition.”
Coppell, however, now sees his team well placed with a point from tomorrow’s game, eliminating both Pune as well as defending champions Chennaiyin from the fray of qualifying for the final four.
Kolkata whilst being third on the table, have been particularly bad at home. Surprisingly, Jose Molina’s men have won only one game at home out of the five at the Rabindra Sarobar stadium. However, Coppell felt that the past won’t have much impact on the game tomorrow.
“The past is past, in fact, I didn’t know of this stat,” confessed the 61-year-old. "The important thing is to focus on the three points at hand tomorrow. I have watched a lot of Kolkata's game and I have to say that they have been unlucky in games they have drawn. They have some really powerful forwards and we have to be at our best to get anything from the game."
Coppell knows that as the tournament moves towards the “meaty part” of the season, Kerala needs to deliver to push themselves past the final line of qualifying for the final four. The Blasters have been one of the most indifferent sides in the league’s short history. After reaching the final in the first season, the men from “God’s own country” collapsed monumentally last season to finish with a woeful record.
A qualification for the final four would thus go hand in hand with the sinusoidal graph when it comes to their fortunes.
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