Bhaichung Bhutia attracted me to Indian football – United Sikkim coach Nathan Hall
I-League debutants United Sikkim not only have the youngest squad in the league, but in 27-year-old Australian Nathan Hall, they also have the youngest coach in Indian top flight history. Hall has had coaching stints in Australia, Thailand and Indonesia, but this is his first head coach assignment.
His first game ended in a narrow defeat to Mumbai FC last weekend, but the performance of the United Sikkim side was encouraging, and with their game against Mohun Bagan postponed, Hall will get more time to work with his players ahead of a potential relegation six-pointer against lowly ONGC on December 29.
Sportskeeda caught up with the Aussie for an exclusive chat:
Tell us about your football journey. How did it all start? And how did you take up coaching?
Well, like most coaches, I played the game before taking up coaching. Unfortunately for me I was never good enough to make it as a professional player & decided at the tender age of 18 to take up coaching. I was lucky enough to get a start at Sutherland Sharks FC (my local club) who competes in the NSWPL (2nd tier of Australian Football). I spent nearly 3 years there, worked with some fantastic coaches & learnt a great deal. During this period I began taking my coaching badges, attended numerous seminars, read and studied everything I could get my hands on and in general had a massive desire to learn as much as I could. From there, I spent 2 years at APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC (a former Australian National League club). It was at APIA where I had my first taste of working with senior players & probably really started to believe that I had the potential to forge a career as a professional coach.
Since this will be your first head coach assignment, how are you preparing for the challenge?
Lots of people (I’m sure) are commentating on my age, but what they probably don’t realise is that I have been coaching for 10 years (5 of those as a professional); have worked in 4 different countries and coached alongside lots of great people who have all contributed to my development . Over the past 4-5 years I have gathered enough experience to help all of my players improve their abilities & make this team super competitive against anyone we come up against.
What attracted you to Indian football and United Sikkim?
Honestly, Bhaichung Bhutia. If it was another club in India, I probably wouldn’t have taken the job. When Bhaichung forwarded me the contract, I actually had one coaching offer in the Malaysia Super League and chances to work for two national teams (one in Africa, one in Europe). But, after numerous conversations about the project & knowing how hard he has worked to bring professional football to Sikkim, to be honest I just wanted to be a part of it. It’s not about the money. If I wanted money, I would have stayed in Thailand with my partner (as I have a house & other investments there), it’s purely about the opportunity and challenge of helping USFC stay in the I-League & that’s all I’m focused on at the moment.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I like my players to be energetic, dynamic & proactive all over the pitch. I like to play at a high tempo (both offensively and defensively) and press, suffocate the opposition immediately after losing the ball. I want my players to be calm & collected whilst in possession and be able to pass their way out of trouble. I’m a very simple, open minded person & try to build a strong connection with everyone (players, support staff, management, owners) but at the same time work is work as the players know that as soon as they arrive at the training ground they need to be ready (physically &mentally), leave nothing to chance & give 100% in every exercise & every session.
United Sikkim suffered a 10-1 hammering earlier in the season. Do you think it is possible to survive relegation with this group of players?
Anything is possible. Okay we have a young team, a team that probably has less experience (at this level) than 90% of teams in the I-League. In saying that, the players have been absolutely top class since my arrival and all have really impressed me with their attitude, work ethic during training & general professionalism. To be honest, I don’t care too much about past results. Obviously Prayag United had a very good day & we had a very poor day, simple as that really! The media / fans can make what they like from that result but from what I’ve seen so far, I have 20 something players who are hungry, hardworking & have immense desire to improve.
Following the postponement of the Mohun Bagan game, how will the extra week off help your side?
It helps! We have had a good week of training so far. The players have worked hard & I’m very pleased with everyone’s energy levels, commitment & desire. I made it very clear to them (the players) last week that the fitness levels need to be improved & we have focused a lot on that this week. In all honestly, I don’t know what they were doing before but the boys are a good 20-30% below the level I would like them to be physically. So over the next few days we will continue to work hard & gradually over the next 3-4 weeks they will reach a level that I’m happy with. The extra week off has given me a chance to get to know all of the players a bit better, see them train more (as I only had 3-4 sessions with them before the Mumbai game). All this will help me determine who will play against ONGC.