The Under-17 World Cup is only a few months away, and preparations are underway and in full swing for what is the first-ever FIFA tournament to be hosted by India.
The 24-team event will also be the first time an Indian team will rub shoulders on the world footballing stage, albeit in an age-group tournament. Luis Norton de Matos, the Portuguese head coach of the Indian Under-17 side, will take his players on a trip to Europe this month to further enhance their prospects of doing well in the World Cup.
Norton de Matos’ appointment came about only recently, in March 2017, and his selection came after a recommendation from his compatriot and the current Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho.
While as many as 120 applicants vied for the coveted job of leading India into its first FIFA tournament, only six made it to the final shortlist, which included the likes of former Manchester City and Team GB manager Stuart Pearce, Colm Toal and Norton de Matos.
As part of their selection procedure, the AIFF then had inputs from the shortlisted candidates’ references. Mourinho, who has had experience of working with Norton de Matos in the past, was the 63-year-old’s top reference. The Special One’s glowing appraisal is what sealed Norton de Matos’ appointment at the helm of the Indian clubs.
A source close to AIFF said, “We spoke to the top reference on each CV, for Luis it was Jose Mourinho. He stated that Luis was a top coach especially at the youth level, and having worked and played with him, he can vouch for him. Hence, it did help him get the job as Jose is a top reference.”
Norton de Matos previously worked at Étoile Lusitana, a youth football academy based in Dakar, Senegal. Étoile Lusitana was founded by Mourinho in 2008, and the two-time Champions League winner holds 80 percent of the club’s rights. Norton de Matos was invited by Mourinho to coach the team and also to direct its youth academy.
He stayed with the club for a spell between 2008 and 2010. Among the club’s successful exports are former Inter Milan and current Bologna defender Ibrahima M’baye and ex-AC Milan youngster Ameth Lo.
With Mourinho’s blessings and his track record of working with development teams, Norton de Matos could prove to be an inspired appointment for the Indian Under-17 side.
If he manages to replicate with the team even half of Mourinho’s success, Norton de Matos will stand Indian football’s future in good stead. With the tournament being billed as one to build India’s footballing legacy, Norton de Matos is in a position to shape India’s future in the sport. Perhaps a sprinkling of Mourinho’s magic is what Indian football needs at this stage.