The Guwahati-based team has begun every season so far with a new coach in charge. Keeping up with this tradition, the ISL club recently appointed Gerard Nus as their head coach for the season.
The signing makes the 35-year-old Spaniard the youngest coach ever to be appointed by any ISL team.
Sportskeeda spoke to Gerard Nus about his ambitions for the upcoming season in an exclusive interview.
Q: How have you been coping up with the pandemic and hope you are well?
Gerard Nus: Thank you, and yeah I am doing well, but as you know, we are in the middle of a pandemic so l'm just making sure everything is ok and that everyone is safe. My friends and family are all good, so fingers crossed and hope it stays like that.
Q: You started coaching at a very young age, at an age when people try to get into the first team as players. How did that happen for you, and what made you choose to be a coach rather than a player?
Gerard Nus: Well, I always loved football. I used to play but suffered an injury at a very young age, which made me stop playing the game. After getting an injury and being sidelined, I started focusing more on the coaching courses, and I went to university to get a sports science degree. It was always clear in my mind that I wanted to be involved with football as a coach. With that in mind, I kept working, and I was also lucky to be part of a great team like Liverpool at such a young age. That has helped me a lot.
I take all these experiences that I have had in life as a lesson, and I learn from them and try to improve every day from the lessons I learned yesterday. I want to incorporate all these experiences and lessons into NorthEast United FC and try to get a good result this season.
Q: Was it difficult for you to become a coach because most coaches are way older and some players were also more senior than you?
Gerard Nus: (Smiles) I always hear that you are young, you are young. For me, the place that I was born in, the culture I grew up with and the education I have, age is not an essential factor as compared to the skills and knowledge a person has.
For me, I have a simple logic if you are older than me, I will respect you, and if you are younger than me, I will respect you in the same way. I don't discriminate based on age, and I hope that other people don't do it too.
Q: How was it working under Rafa Benitez in Liverpool?
Gerard Nus: It was a massive, massive experience. Rafa Benitez is one of the best coaches in the world. He has the experience of coaching so many world-class clubs like Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Liverpool. It is not necessary to describe the success he has had in football because everyone knows about it.
But, overall what I learnt from him was the way he controlled everything. He likes to handle everything from what is happening on the pitch to what is happening outside of it. Things outside the pitch are also important because we are talking about human beings here. We are talking about players and we must ensure that they are focused and committed to giving a hundred per cent in training. These things can only be controlled off the pitch, not on it. So I like to prepare for a match, make the team work hard and control the other factors like Rafa does.
Q: Avram Grant is an ex-coach of NorthEast United FC, and you have worked with him before during your stint in Ghana. Did you speak with Avram before joining NorthEast United FC?
Gerard Nus: Of course! Avram is a person that I like personally very much. He is an excellent coach and a perfect human being. We had a great time in Ghana, and we achieved something great for the country, I believe, in reaching the CAF finals. He is a big person in the footballing world, and I admire him personally and professionally.
I spoke with him since he was also the ex-coach of NorthEast United FC we shared opinions, and he did tell me what to expect and other things as well.
He said many good things about NorthEast United FC. He told me the people in India are really lovely. He explained to me the vision the owners have for the club. Avram also explained to me the issues that the club has been facing in the past couple of seasons, especially regarding the performance of the team.
It was a bit disappointing to hear those but I take it as a challenge. We need to look at the positive side of things always in life. That is my mentality. If I didn't believe that there is a chance to do something amazing with NorthEast United FC, I wouldn't be here.
I want to be surrounded by positive people, and I hope we get that. I have already started working on getting the best of every moment, be it working on signing foreign players or checking out Indian players. I hope we can do something good this season.
Q: Do you believe in a fixed footballing philosophy. For instance, no matter what Pep Guardiola never leaves his philosophy...
Gerard Nus: (Smiles) That is an excellent question; I really like it. I think that any coach must have a clear idea about what is in his mind and what would be his dream combination and style of play—this what Pep Guardiola does, yeah.
But, there is another thing which we must never forget and that is what is the reality of the team? What are the possibilities of the team? Let us say, you want to press high. To do that, you need to have players with energy and legs. If you don't have that, then what you do is you take your philosophy and the reality of your team and make a fusion of them and work with it.
So, I am apparent and robust about my ideas, but at the same time, I am ready to adapt. One thing that I learned from all my experiences around the world is that one must adapt to survive. Adaptation is key. One has to adapt to the culture, the scenario and the players also. In football, you cannot be complaining and negative; you have to make the most from a situation and keep going.
Q: Have you had a chance to check out the Indian players that have signed for NorthEast United FC?
Gerard Nus: Yes, definitely. I have watched videos from the teams that they were in and obviously our players' videos from last season. We also have some new faces, so I am trying to know more about them. I have spoken to the coaches under whom they used to play for before. I have already talked to all of them.
I have watched a lot of games and videos, and I do have a lot of information about them but what matters the most is getting to see them with my own eyes. That is what matters the most in getting to know a player.
Q: Will any of the foreigners from last season be retained this season?
Gerard Nus: I don't want to talk about something which is not finalised yet. We are looking at the old players and also at new players. Those who will fit into our system will be a part of the team.
Q: The ISL, as a league, has a league phase and then a playoff phase. What do you think about the structure of the league?
Gerard Nus: Well, It's interesting, fascinating. The only thing I see is that has room for improvement is the duration of the league and the number of games. I think right now you have a six-month league. If you look at the best leagues in the world and copy what they do, you will see that they play football for nine-ten months, not six months. The number of games is also much more.
In my viewpoint, if you want to develop players, you need to have such a structure in place that has more amount of competition and can provide maximum game time to the players.
It was actually shocking for me at first to know that the league is for just six months. Then I understood that it was even shorter before that (smiles). I also know that you have to take into consideration a lot of things, and I like the intent that the league is showing.
I hope I can talk to people who can provide help to change the scenario in India because the system that is in place right now is good, but it is not perfect, and I think I can help put in place a system that can be perfect.
Q: The league will be expanded from a ten-team competition to an eleven team competition. How do you see this move?
Gerard Nus: Absolutely brilliant! As I said earlier, we need to do everything that can help increase the duration and number of matches played during a season. So this is a good step.
Q: During your career, you have held a lot of different designations at clubs from coach, assistant coach to technical director. How will you use that variety of experience at NorthEast United FC?
Gerard Nus: I am someone who does not want to only deal with the first team and the twenty-three or twenty-eight set of players. That is too small. I want to help the club in many ways.
I think I can advise and support the club in building a proper system from the youth teams to the main team. I would also like to help the club perfect the structure that should be in place at any football club. But the timing of those tasks is essential. Right now, the critical thing that needs to be done is building a squad for this season. Once that is done, we can focus on getting the structure in place.
Q: Fans and critics have been wondering what sort of football they can expect from NorthEast United FC this season. What do you have to say about that?
Gerard Nus: What I can say now is that we will have a team that fights for every single ball, a group that fights until the end. We will build a team that is proud of wearing the jersey of NorthEast United FC.
See, we were talking about philosophies before. As a coach, I like to have the ball and control the game. I want to be offensive. So, all this is me. Having said that, in the end, we need to see in the training pitch what sort of players we have, what we will be able to do with them and what is best for the team.
I am not here for a season. I want to be here and create something and to create something, you need time. I am not saying a crazy amount of time. But, what I have planned needs to be put into place (the structure) and then I think we can have something that we are proud of.
Q: NorthEast have been branded as an underachiever in the league. Would that tag make your job more difficult?
Gerard Nus: I understand why people say that because the team has reached the playoffs just once in season five. But, it is only an objective and an important objective. We have to see the reality where we are and where the other teams are, and of course, we will go into every game to win it.
We will see if we can get a structure in place, and if that is done, then we will get success. Every team wants the same thing that is to win the game, so you have to have a proper set-up and only then can long term success be achieved.
Q: How do you think the pandemic has affected the game globally?
Gerard Nus: It hasn't been good. But, we have to adapt. Football is for the fans. Playing in front of empty stands is something no player wants. Watching football on the television and from the stands is not the same thing.
Even for us, you know the coaches and staff, it is not fair to have games like this. We miss the passion, the noise, the songs and the smell of the grass. But then again as I said before we have to adapt and move on.
Q: Due to the pandemic, the league will be played only in Goa. Does that mean FC Goa have an added advantage?
Gerard Nus: See, every club wants to play at home; everyone wants to play in an atmosphere and setting that you are used too. In that way, yes FC Goa will have an advantage but on the pitch, only those ninety minutes will matter.
But there are positives; travelling has been cut, which means more rest and time for recovery. Also, less travelling is safer during a pandemic, so I feel it is not a wrong decision to have it in one city during such a time. The practice sessions and tactics will play an even more significant role now that home and away advantage practically doesn't exist.
Q: You have written a book and built an app around football. Can you tell us something about that?
Gerard Nus: Efficiency Match is an app that I created. Initially, I made it to help myself. I was using a lot of different tools like PowerPoint and videos and other stuff, but with this, it makes the work more easier. I can make animations, feed data and analyse a lot of information. I can even put the player's real face and make them see themselves in real-time.
Players can have an understanding of the tactics, practice sessions and what to do and not do. So it helps clear the doubts in the player's mind. It helps us save valuable time and makes training more efficient. It makes the learning process faster and shorter. Football and life, in general, are not for tomorrow, it is for today. So it helps us in a great deal.
A lot of managers have praised the app, and it is available for free in the iOS store. The app is currently available only for iPhone and iPad. It is a tool designed for success, and I am proud of it. If someone can take advantage of it, I am happy that they did. I am someone who doesn't like to keep things a secret, so I made it available for every one: player, coaches and also fans. It was also a way to stay connected with the sport differently. The app helps build my knowledge.
Q: India's current FIFA ranking is something not many people can be proud of. What are your views about that?
Gerard Nus: First of all, you need to give the local players more matches and minutes, and that is not just in the top-level but the second and third level too. Also, underage teams need to play more football. The structure of football that we were talking about that needs to be perfected to get better results.
If these things are done, I am sure the Indian national team ranking will improve. Play, play and play. That is the only way to create football players. The clubs, leagues and the national team need to work in tandem to achieve that objective. Also, football must be spread to every corner of the country.
Q: Your favourite footballer of all time?
Gerard Nus: (Laughs) That is a difficult question. To name one, I will say Lionel Messi, given the things he has achieved, and the level of football that he has been playing is something extraordinary.
Q: Your favourite football club?
Gerard Nus: (Smiles) I live in Barcelona and have a significant attachment with the club, so yes, Barcelona. But another club that I like is Liverpool. After I went to Liverpool, I understood the passion that is there in English football, not just the players but everyone.
In pubs, all the people talk about is football, and it is not only the big clubs but even the teams playing the Championship, and lower leagues have the same passion.
Q: What is your take on Indian food?
Gerard Nus: I have had Indian food but not in India. I am sure it will be very different from what it is in Europe compared to the real deal. I cannot wait to taste Indian cuisine.