Most of the coaches and assistant coaches in the Indian Super League will be new to Indian football but Mumbai City FC assistant Steve Darby is a familiar name as he was in charge of Mohun Bagan for three months at the start of the 2011-12 campaign
Darby would be working with head coach Peter Reid, a pairing that was highly successful at the Thailand national team. During an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Darby revealed how the deal happened with the Mumbai franchise, which is co-owned by Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor.
“Like most things in football, the deal happened as a surprise. A number of people had known Peter Reid and I had worked successfully in Thailand and they wanted the combination again. The short contract worked out perfectly for both us. Maybe also as I can translate scouse (Liverpudlian) into English! But also having had experience in India I knew many of the key players in the organisation,” Darby told Sportskeeda.
The duo’s work in Thailand means that unlike most coaching staffs in the ISL, they have experience in Asian football. That could give Mumbai City an edge and looking back on their time at Thailand, Darby talked about the importance of adapting to not only the football but also life in a foreign country.
“Whilst we were in Thailand we got to the final of the South East Asian Cup and lost in the last minute, and like most footballers we were convinced we were robbed by a refereeing decision. Also we had good results in the Asia Cup qualifiers drawing with Iran and Jordan away and big wins over Singapore. So we have travelled extensively over Asia, also when Peter left, Bryan Robson took over as manager and we had good wins over India.
“A foreigner must learn to adapt to the many facets of life. Not just football and I think we have managed that so far,” he stated, before adding, “we both have a passion for cricket which helps here.”
The team was mainly selected from the domestic and international drafts with a few additions directly by the franchise like that of German Manuel Friedrich and Frenchman Nicolas Anelka. Darby is fairly happy with the team composition and expects newer Indian heroes to emerge from his team during the tournament.
“Like every footballer or coach you want to win every game you take part in. It’s impossible to compare other teams as you never know how some of the big names can adapt culturally to India and the intensity of the league.
“Again the reality is often your season is dictated by how many injuries you get to key players. Hence the backroom staff is vital and also how you recover from games and long journeys. Also your Indian players will be vital. We are lucky in having I think the best Indian player in Nabi and the number one keeper Subrata Pal. I also think a few of the young Indian players we have will rise to the occasion and make a name for themselves.
“But it’s already great watching an Indian player teaching a Spaniard Hindi!!! I think there are about 20 languages in the squad, meal times are fascinating,” he said.
The former Home United coach doesn’t believe there is any point complaining about the short duration of the pre-season and reckons that team bonding will be the most important aspect.
“Well you have no choice and it’s the same for all the teams. You should also never worry about what you can’t control. In this case the pre-season length. What you have to do is adapt and manage the situation. It’s going to be physically demanding and also its essential the players gel as a group. You see team mates more than you see your family in this period.
“Logically there are key players you don’t want to lose but in reality some players who may only play a small part are equally as important to a winning team,” he opined.
Darby has been impressed by the level of professionalism at the Mumbai franchise and expects the new league to have a big impact off the pitch as well.
“I can only really speak for Mumbai City, I think the concept will greatly improve the game, especially off the pitch. As the club is new it has no inherited politics or prejudices and is starting from scratch aiming for the best practice. The backroom staff is extensive but also highly qualified. Such as a sports doctor, nutritionists with masters degree and experienced administrators. It’s been a great and a pleasant surprise to work in this environment. If only this is the ISL legacy, then it will have been a success
“The marketing of the ISL is also showing the way and is bringing in new fans and exciting old ones. They have maximised social media which is the best method now of communicating to fans. As you saw Anelka announced his signing himself on Twitter and the number of hits was fantastic,” he said.
The 59-year-old added that the improvement of India in Asian and world football will be a long process and believes the ISL will be able to contribute in it.
“I think people get too hung up and worried about FIFA rankings. It’s a complex system which is linked to geography and the confederation you are in and the competitions you play in. Obviously winning will take you up the rankings but its crazy in that you cannot play sometimes and rise as well.
“Improving is a gradual process, South Asia, Asian Cup and then the big one, World Cup qualification. Even in this you can have luck (good or bad) in the draw which dictates your path. But the path is long and must start with youth education and a strong national league which will bring in finance to the game. Improving is a complex jigsaw of players, coaching, facilities and administration. All need to develop in harmony.
“The ISL must help in the process, the elite Indian players working with top professionals can only benefit the game,” he concluded.