Meet Oliver D'Souza, the man looking to become India's first ever wheelchair bound football coach
In what could be the first in India, the nation might soon get their first ever wheelchair bound football coach in Oliver D’Souza. The 32-year-old had enrolled in the AIFF D-license coaching certificate course at Cooperage recently, and if he passes the course he will soon turn a new page in Indian Football history.
So the big question that now faces him is how is he going to demonstrate his authority to the players when physical attributes are against him?
“If you see the best and successful coaches in football history like Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, they never played at the top level but were still master strategists. They never physically demonstrated to the players, they use their assistants to convey that message. For football, you need a brain and that is what I want to make use of,” said D’Souza.
Like his compatriots, he too walked on his feet and played football like any other normal person. But in a freak accident a decade ago, he broke his spinal cord and since then he has been restricted to his wheel chair.
“Just like others, I was very passionate about football. I played football at MSSA and collegiate level. With my school St Mary’s ICSE (Mazgaon) we finished runners-up twice in U-14 category and finished third with the U-16 team once. After that, I played for HR College for three years in collegiate football.”
In the process, he completed his graduation and at the age of 22, he completed his Masters in Commerce. After that came the moment, that changed his life completely.
“I was playing football with my buddies and the ball went on top of the roof. I climbed the roof to get the ball but as soon I reached the top, the roof gave in. I fell down 15 down feet and broke my spine.”
“It was the most difficult time of my life, I couldn’t do anything after that. For three years, my life came to a standstill. I had to depend on others for my daily work. There was no inspiration to live life anymore. I had to join a rehabilitation center to rebuild my life,” he said.
With some strong support from his near and dear ones he somehow started rebuilding his life. He had to leave his old family home in Mazgaon and shift to Borivili as the building had no escalator.
“In Mazgaon I use to be stuck up at home doing nothing. Slowly, I started working, first from home and then I joined a small public relations company. I also volunteered with an NGO and helped people, who had suffered accidents like me to get back onto their feet, like me. After that, I started working at the Royal Bank of Scotland as an operations executive.”
“But none of the jobs gave me happiness that football gave me. It had set a benchmark in my life, and I had decided that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” said the former central midfielder, who lost his father in 2011 just when he started establishing himself.
He approached prominent coaches for an opportunity to do coaching but everyone gave him a cold shoulder by saying, “How would he be abe to demonstrate to the players?”
He then came across a story where Manchester United had hired a wheelchair bound football coach named Sohail Rehman for able-bodied players. He had also received a letter of congratulations from legendary former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson after he became a fully qualified coach in 2014.
“That story really inspired me. When I heard about the course I was like, why not? If I get a license at least people will give me an opportunity. I can’t be in my bedroom and tell people what to do. If others can, there is no reason why I can’t do,” he answered.
He then approached Western India Football Association (WIFA) for the AIFF D-license, which had no separate section for handicapped candidates.
“I met WIFA CEO Henry Menezes and they were very cooperative. Seeing my enthusiasm and passion they said they need to get All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) permission for the same as the course had 60 marks for theory and 70 for practical. Soon I got a confirmation mail from WIFA of my inclusion in the course. There was also a line in the mail that I won’t be charged any fees for the same,” said D’Souza.
The course also gave him an opportunity to meet his old time hero Godfred Pereira, who also happened to be the instructor of the course.
“I was in 11th standard when I had first seen him on TV. In India, people are mostly fans of Bhaichung Bhutia or Sunil Chhetri. But being a midfielder, I was always mesmerized by his skills, he was a real treat to watch.”
“When I first met him at the course I was so nervous. I introduced myself and since then he has had a calming influence on me. After being with him, I realized to be a good coach you don’t have to shout, even soft personalities can be good coaches,” he concluded.