Decoding youth football in India and Europe with youth coach Deep Moorjani

Deep Moorjani with the Kenkre FC U-12 side.
Deep Moorjani with the Kenkre FC U-12 side.

Sportskeeda caught up with former PIFA and Air India striker/winger Deep Moorjani who has had playing experience in the MDFA Elite Division, U20 I-League, and I-League 2nd Division football league, for a short chat.

Moorjani has played a year for Lisbon District League football side Castelo Forte. He is now the head oach of Kenkre FC U-18 and the U-12 side and has been part of the Barca Academy in Mumbai.

He is currently pursuing the AFC B License. He talked about his experience playing football in Lisbon, Portugal, the fundamental differences in local football in India and Europe, his coaching career in Mumbai, the technical aspects of scouting and player development, and youth football in India in general. Here are the excerpts:

Playing Experience in Portugal

Q: How did the playing stint with Lisbon District League side Castelo Forte work out?

A: The coach of Castelo Forte, Marco Anjos, was undergoing a coaching stint in Mumbai at that time when I was playing for Central Bank of India. He watched me play, and he offered me a trial at the club. I got a 45-day trial and then went on to play a season at the club.

Q: How was the overall experience in Portugal?

A: The first 30 days were pretty hectic. The language barrier was huge. The coach also struggled to speak in English. Almost none of my teammates used to talk in English. The game was fast and physical. I like to hold the ball and play, but in Portugal, I could not do it.

Whenever I had the ball, players would run on to me. It took time to settle down. It made me a better player, and I became a faster player in my head, especially, more than physically. It was a great learning experience.

Deep Moorjani in action for Castelo Forte in Lisbon, Portugal. (In Blue/White)
Deep Moorjani in action for Castelo Forte in Lisbon, Portugal. (In Blue/White)

The contrast in football between India and Europe

Q: How different is the football infrastructure in Europe from India? What are your thoughts on the role of the local governments and schools to develop and encourage players in both the continents?

A: Europe has a lot of open and public grounds. People have much more access to the same than in India. Football players can train anywhere. Football players in Europe start early, and the nutrition is better, there are more coaches, a lesser population, means greater access to facilities by an individual.

Schools promote and encourage players a lot. In India, if players approach schools and colleges for financial and academic concessions to pursue football, they are most likely to be turned down. However, in Europe, the eco-system to develop players is very supportive.

Q: Tell us about the extent of the use of data analysis and statistics in developing players in Europe and India

A: Castelo Forte was a new setup. They didn’t have much of a prominent analytical structure. However, from what I have seen in Lisbon, the GPS vests, gadgets, and data mappers were used in leagues as low as the 3rd division at the local level, at least. If you compare it with the situation in India, only some Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League teams are using them.

Indian clubs are slowly adapting to the usage of data and statistics in the sport, and it will only grow from here.

Youth Coaching Career in Mumbai

Q: What challenges did you face as a young football coach in India?

A: I started in a small setup in Kandivali. I did my AIFF D License. I realized that I did not know enough about football. The certification was just not enough. I had many practical questions and doubts.

The D License was only a 5-day long course. I started searching for academies to learn more. I found out about the Barca Academy in Mumbai, and they had a great structure. The technical director at the club was from Catalonia itself. I underwent a coaching trial, and I joined the Barca Academy in Mumbai. I was also simultaneously working at the Western Sports Foundation.

I used to implement the things I learned at the Barca Academy in Mumbai at my local academy. It was a great combination, and I learned many things. One of the key challenges I faced was communication. I was not always great at public speaking. I used to get nervous when communicating with the players. I read a lot and practised on my instructions and got better.

Q: International academies like the Barca Academy do not participate in state and national youth leagues. They also have not produced players who have gone on to play for Indian youth teams and clubs in the domestic leagues. What are your thoughts on their role in developing players in India?

A: Whenever a club like Barcelona opens an academy in India, they focus on three main aspects. They focus on promoting their brand and make financial gains, and they want to engage with fans. India is a big football market and there are lot of Barcelona fans.

And third, of course, the focus is on training footballers and their philosophy. Indian academies work on fundamentally different models. International academies are more about player development, whereas in academies like Kenkre, where I currently work, the key focus is on producing players for domestic football leagues and playing in the local leagues along with player development.

Deep Moorjani at the Barca Academy, Mumbai.
Deep Moorjani at the Barca Academy, Mumbai.

Scouting and Development

Q: What is your coaching philosophy?

A: I like to play an attacking, possession-based game. However, I adapt as well according to the situations. I like to be organised defensively by setting up traps to get the ball back. It also depends on what kind of players I have at my disposal. I usually go with the 4-3-3 with 1-2 holding midfielders.

I have even gone with the 5-4-1 situation to be a bit more secure at the back and expose the opponents on the counter. I treat my football players the way I would have liked to be treated. I make myself approachable, allow my players to be responsible and give them the freedom to try some new things as well for them to grow,

Q: What do you usually look for in young players for specific positions while building a team from scratch?

A: I look for two primary traits, kids who can score and create. As the players get older, I then look for someone who can stop the players. Furthermore, it is essential to work on four aspects – technical, tactical, psychological, and physical. Till the age of 12, it is important to develop one’s techniques and then teach them about basic tactics.

At the age of 13, when 11v11 is the norm, you imbibe more profound tactical knowledge into the players. It is important to play every football player in every position. It makes you an intelligent and versatile player. Some kids like to keep goals right from the scratch. To scout the perfect goalkeeper, you need to experiment with every kid with you and then pick the best ones.

Q: As a youth football coach, how important is it for you to develop players? Does the club management focus on results in the youth leagues or are coaches are allowed to have the freedom to focus on player development solely?

A: I believe player development should be the priority. You need to look at it from a long-term point of view. If the players are improving, you will get results. However, it is not necessary that your football players are developing if you are just winning games.

Football players need to be provided the freedom to build and improve. The ultimate aim is to be creative and resourceful and not depend on coaches for all the instructions. It is also essential to have the management buy into your ideas. You need to win games and develop football players at the same time.

From what I have read, countries like Belgium and the Netherlands do not even have league tables in youth leagues. Thus, the focus is solely on developing players and not on local competitions.

Youth Football in India

Q: Age fraud is a significant problem in Indian youth football. What do you think is the way forward in curbing this widespread menace?

A: I have experienced this issue first hand since I was a kid. Many young football players have made it big without any consequences. More importantly, I think it is a cultural issue. Coaches need to play an important role to educate players.

They have to warn young football players of the consequences. I think the problem is slowly being solved. We now have the TW-3 tests for Youth I-League tournaments, which is an encouraging thing.

Q: Recently, AIFF has allowed registration of foreign players in the U-13 and U-15 Youth Leagues. Do you think it impedes the chances of Indian footballers in the youth tournaments?

A: It is not much of a problem. It gives equal opportunities for foreigners staying in India to play competitive football. Football is an all-inclusive game, and they should not be denied to play the game. It all depends on the mentality of the coaches to maintain a balance and not field too many foreign players on the pitch.

Q: What has been the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on local and youth football? How are coaches and players coping with the problem?

A: The initial few weeks were difficult. However, eventually, everyone realised that this was going to be the norm for a while. Players are working out and staying fit. We have begun online, interactive coaching sessions.

Tactics and positions are being discussed through video analysis. There is a lot of content on the internet to be watched by young footballers to learn techniques and tactics. It is not a permanent solution. Video analysis and interactive coaching is something that supports on the field team-training, not something which replaces it.

Q: What would be your advice to the young and aspiring coaches and footballers out there?

A: Coaches need to gain as much knowledge as possible and focus on player development. Results will follow with better players. Technically gifted players with sound tactical knowledge is the need of the hour in India. Players need to work on multiple positions and situations. Versatility is an important aspect.

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Edited by S Chowdhury
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