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Five reasons why India has gone backwards since Asian Cup 2011

India’s appearance in the 2011 Asian Cup was supposed to be the springboard for their revival in the continent. But we haven’t kicked on from there and two years on, already look to be out of contention for a place in Australia 2015.

So there has been hardly any progress in the last two years and instead India seems to have gone backwards as we are struggling to be even among the best emerging teams of Asia, following the failure to automatically qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.

Sportskeeda lists the five reasons for India’s lack of progress.

Departure of Bob Houghton

India's coach Bob Houghton gestures duri

It’s been almost two years since Bob Houghton resigned as India head coach and his exit is still hurting Indian football. The English coach didn’t have a good record outside India and was criticised by many for employing the long-ball style. But Houghton still managed to achieve the minimum targets and at the same time had a long-term vision. While preparing the team for the 2011 Asian Cup, the Englishman also gave AIFF the idea of forming the Indian Arrows (now Pailan Arrows) and the result of that is for everybody to see as many from the first batch of that Arrows team are either playing in big clubs now or regulars in the national squad.

Right after the 2011 Asian Cup, the former China coach guided India to top spot in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, something which Wim Koevermans failed to do. Notably, those qualifiers were played in Malaysia but despite taking a very young squad, Houghton got India qualified for the 2012 Challenge Cup and thus gave plenty of hope for the future. However he was immediately show-caused after that tournament for allegedly racially abusing an Indian referee. In the best interests of the national team, the AIFF could have sorted the issue mutually and allowed Houghton to carry on but the Englishman was put under immense pressure and eventually had to resign. India lost a coach whom both players and fans admired and more importantly someone who also got the results.

Transition in the squad

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Six members of India’s Asian Cup 2011 squad were on the wrong side of 30 already and thus it was clear that after the tournament some fresh blood would be needed. But India certainly needed some of those veterans to remain part of the national setup until a fresh young group received adequate international experience. However, that didn’t happen as Bhaichung Bhutia announced his international retirement and Mahesh Gawli also did the same following the 2011 SAFF Cup success on home soil. The biggest shock was the retirement of Climax Lawrence who decided to carry on after the 2011 SAFF Cup only because then-national coach Savio Medeira assured the midfielder that he would remain part of his plans for the 2012 Challenge Cup.

But Medeira dropped Climax from the Challenge Cup squad and that certainly insulted the Dempo midfielder and led to his unceremonious retirement. Abhishek Yadav and Renedy Singh haven’t played for the national team ever since the 2011 Asian Cup while Deepak Mondal has also been consistently ignored despite his consistency at domestic level. As a result, the likes of Gouramangi Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi, Subrata Pal and Sunil Chhetri have had to take too much responsibility too early in their international career and that has affected their individual performances. It’s an age-old tradition in our country to not give senior players the respect they deserve and that has certainly hurt the Indian football team as it clearly lacks the experience that is needed for high-pressure international matches.

Too many coaching changes

armando

Stability is often talked about in club football but it is equally important at international level. Koevermans is India’s third coach following the departure of Houghton and clearly needs time to get used to Indian football. However the failure to qualify automatically for the 2014 Challenge Cup will raise a lot of question marks about the Dutchman, but in truth he took over a national team that was already on the decline due to too many changes. Dempo legend Armando Colaco was initially appointed as Houghton’s successor but despite getting some good results and also getting the team to play a more attractive style of football, the Goan was denied the five-year contract that he was looking for.

India certainly has long-term plans with Koevermans and technical director Rob Baan so they could have easily given I-League’s most successful coach a long-term deal. Instead, long-time national assistant coach Savio Medeira was made the head coach and although he did win the SAFF Cup, the former Salgaocar player took India to an all-time low in the 2012 Challenge Cup, where they lost all three group matches and conceded eight goals. The confidence of many national team players took a beating while India no longer had the status of being one of the strongest teams among Asia’s emerging nations. Koevermans delivered the Nehru Cup in his first assignment but fans have to accept that due to too many coaching changes, the national team has become a ‘work in progress’ again.

Improper planning from the AIFF

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An average Indian football fan would always blame the AIFF for everything that is wrong with Indian football. That certainly isn’t justified and to their credit the Indian FA nowadays does do its bit for the national team, starting from better training facilities to foreign exposure tours and international friendlies. But the AIFF still have made a few blunders and contributed to the downfall of the national team in the last two years. Going back to 2011, the AIFF strangely decided to have a Caribbean Tour. It took place in August right after India’s World Cup qualifying tie against UAE and hence the national team players could never get a proper off-season break.

India certainly didn’t need to judge themselves against Caribbean opposition as it’s their performances against Asian teams that really counts. So the tour was totally unnecessary and affected the form and fitness of national team players in the 2011-12 season for club and country. The AIFF also invited Cameroon’s ‘B’ team in the Nehru Cup and as a result, beating them didn’t help improve India’s FIFA Ranking. The national team also didn’t get to face a team similar to Myanmar before the qualifiers, something which was essential, and instead faced a far technically superior Palestine side. The Yemen match cancellation in November also meant that the national team missed out on a FIFA match date again. The stints of foreigners Stephen Constantine and Houghton showed AIFF the right way of preparing national teams but some past mistakes continue to happen and halt our progress at the international level.

Savio Medeira’s continued presence

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There is no denying that Savio Medeira was an exceptional player and is the only person to win the SAFF Cup as a player and coach. He also contributed to the success during Houghton’s stint as an assistant coach. But Savio’s continued presence in the coaching staff is possibly not helping the national team anymore and maybe someone new is needed to come up with fresher and better ideas to help Koevermans. The AIFF’s decision to retain the former Salgaocar player, after the end of his tenure as head coach following the dismal showing in the 2012 Challenge Cup, was absolutely shocking. This is because Savio had openly criticised the national team players for ‘lacking commitment’ and ‘playing for club contracts’. That is the ultimate insult to any player who is representing his country at international level and when such criticism comes from your own coach who also happens to be a former international, it is even more painful to take.

Yet, Savio regained his position as the assistant coach and the strange squad selections and disappointing performances suggest Koevermans needs a shake-up in his coaching staff, starting with the removal of the former Salgaocar coach. The Dutchman needs someone who not only has a better idea about local talents around the country but also someone who won’t give much importance to past reputations of any player. Savio was never a fan favourite and although some of the criticism was harsh, it’s high time the AIFF considers his position and looks for a replacement.

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