Do we really care who Rahim sahib was?
Much was said on 1st December,2012 on the 56th anniversary of one of Indian football’s most memorable victories. They defeated Australia 4-2 in Melbourne Olympics.
But sadly, we don’t even recall or even try to remember the coach who made it possible.
I had read about Syed Abdul Rahim when I was 10. From that precocious age till now, his name continue to stir a lot of interest among the aficionados. With his small frame, Rahim was and is, by far the most successful Indian coach.
Rahim sahib was simply desi. Yet he was hugely successful and churned out more glories for Indian football than any other coach. During my conversations with his son SS Hakim and his famous students, late Peter Thangaraj, late Yusuf Khan Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Balaram, Syed Nayeemuddin and others, one thing was clear to me. Unlike other coaches both foreign and Indian, he was modest and down to earth who wanted to give his best shot for the country.
Not many would know, Rahim sahib used to write couplets framed around football techniques. He was a qualified physical trainer and a referee. Hence, Indian team didn’t require a physiotherapist during his era. His teachings were simple and to the point. No wonder he had produced a genre of footballers who became living legends.
A creditable performance by the Indian team at the London Olympics in 1948 and at the first Asian Games raised hopes among football fans that this country was on the path to fame and glory in this sport. But their hopes were dashed at the Helsinki Olympics after a 10-1 drubbing at the hands of Yugoslavia.
That was when Rahim decided to beat the European teams at their own game.
He carefully studied the methods of the Europeans and modified these to suit Indian conditions and Indian players. Besides, Rahim knew exactly where the weak points lay in the national side and managed to mitigate these and build a formidable team. He put his boys to the test on a tour of USSR in 1955 and then again during a home series in 1956 before the team took part in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and came fourth. Till now, that has been India’s best show in the Olympics. Neville D’Souza was the top scorer in the tournament.
Rahim had an excellent understanding of the requirements of the game and the material he had in his hands by way of players and their skills. Moreover, he also had the advantage of having some exceptionally skilled players in the side in those days. Many of them were from Hyderabad and he was therefore familiar with their abilities.
He was able to establish a good rapport with his players and they knew exactly what he wanted of them. The players in turn had tremendous respect for Rahim sahib and did their job with great zeal.
The Hyderabad Police team in those days was one of the best in the country and had an enviable record in domestic tournaments. With talent available in plenty in centres such as Hyderabad, Bengal, Bombay and Madras, Indian football seemed to be on firm ground and country’s football seemed to be proceeding along the right lines.
But then came the slide, which left many fans disheartened.
For the next 10 years, till Rahim sahib died on June 11, 1963, India were one of the strongest teams in Asia. Single handedly, he raised a highly talented side that included legends like Chuni, PK, Balaram, Yusuf, Jarnail Singh, Arun Ghosh, Thangaraj, Ram Bahadur, Kempiah, SK Azizuddin, Zulfiqar, Prasanta Sinha, Franco and many others.
The country has now slipped down the ladder and even at the Asian level, the national squad is considered a mediocre team. Indian football followers now feel saddened by this downward trend in the standard of football in the country.
Perhaps, what India now needs is another coach of the calibre of Rahim sahib.