"Indian football has a lot of potential to grow" - RoundGlass Punjab FC Football Director Nikolaos Topoliatis

Nikolaos Topoliatis at RoundGlass Punjab FC. (Image: RoundGlass)
Nikolaos Topoliatis at RoundGlass Punjab FC. (Image: RoundGlass)

RoundGlass Punjab FC are the newest representatives of Punjab football in the mainframe of Indian Football. RoundGlass Sports have already established themselves as a professional sports institution with investments in Field Hockey and Lawn Tennis as well.

Sportskeeda got up close and personal with the club's Football Director, Nikolaos, Topoliatis and talked about his experience in his first year in Indian football, thoughts on the upcoming season and RoundGlass Punjab's ground work in Punjab Football. Here are the excerpts:

Q. You have an ample amount of experience in Greek football. What made you pick India out of all the countries in the world?

I worked for more than 12 years at Olympiacos as Technical Director, holding different positions, including Head Coach, at their academy, and working with players from all age groups. I decided to come to India after my discussions with Sunny (Gurpreet) Singh, the Founder of RoundGlass. I was moved by his vision of putting India on the map of world football and giving young children the opportunity to develop and fulfill their potential through the sport.

It was a big decision for me to move to a new country and work on this long-term project. So far, it has been very good and I am delighted with the progress we have made across all spheres. We hope to keep progressing and getting results in the future with our first team, youth teams and at the grassroots level. I am really happy to be a part of the big RoundGlass family and love being in India as well, especially Chandigarh and Punjab.

Q. What have been your observations from Indian football after working here in the past year?

Indian football has a lot of potential to grow – right from the grassroots level to the absolute top. There is a lot of talent, especially at age-group level and I believe that Indian football has to continue building from the ground up in the form of academies and grassroots centers.

We have seen many world-class players and coaches with lots of experience and knowledge come to India in recent years, which has certainly had a positive impact. We are here in the long run and want to play our part in cooperation with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to fulfill our vision of taking Indian football to the next level.

I must also congratulate the AIFF and all stakeholders for successfully organizing so many tournaments despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. I sincerely hope to see Indian football continuing its progression and growth in the coming decade.

Q. RoundGlass Punjab FC faltered last season in the Championship Round after an exciting performance in the first round. What went wrong for the team in the final few games?

2020-21 was our first season in the I-League and our aim was to be competitive. We had a clear philosophy – to play an inspiring, attractive, high-intensity, possession-based and modern brand of football. The outcome of the matches was not an aim for us. Results are certainly important but for us, showcasing our competitive spirit and hard work is more important and we are confident that our efforts will be rewarded.

Q. What went into the boardroom discussions while picking Ashley Westwood as the head coach? Why was he picked?

Ashley Westwood brings with him high-level technical and leadership skills along with an excellent coaching experience in India, which includes two I-League titles. After my discussions with him, I was sure that he will raise the standards of the first Team and we can be title contenders in the I-League.

He works effectively with young and experienced players, not only to maximize their performance but also to help them fulfill their potential. I am very happy to support Ashley and glad to have him with us in our big RoundGlass family.

Ashley Westwood has been announced as RoundGlass Punjab head coach. (Image: RoundGlass)
Ashley Westwood has been announced as RoundGlass Punjab head coach. (Image: RoundGlass)

Q. What is your role in working with Mr. Ashley Westwood? As a technical director, how important of a role do you play in ensuring the quality of the team on the pitch?

Ashley and I have enjoyed a very collaborative relationship and have worked together on transfers to build our squad for the forthcoming I-League as well as our plans for the next five seasons. We are on the same page when it comes to the principles of football, training sessions, methodology, game model, and our vision about what we want to build here at RoundGlass Punjab FC.

Ours is a long-term plan and we would like our team to have an excellent organization structure – right from the first team to the academy level. It is important for us to implement common methodologies in training sessions across all levels. Along with Ashley, we also have a very good team of technical and support staff around him.

Q. What are your expectations from Ashley Westwood?

As the saying goes, β€œGreat things in business are never done by one person. They are done by a team of people with a long-term vision.” The same applies to every member of our RoundGlass family and we have high expectations from everyone on our team.

Ashley Westwood shares his views on becoming part of our exciting project at RGPFC!! See you in Punjab!! #AshleyWestwood #RGPFC #PunjabInSpirit #HeadCoach#IndianFootbal #AIFF #HeroILeague

7. RoundGlass Punjab have brought in several highly experienced players in the side for next season. Some might argue that most of them are well past their prime. How does the club deal with possible fitness issues for experienced players?

We have been working with our players on their fitness since early August with the help of experienced Strength & Conditioning coaches and are also focusing on their overall wellbeing through remote yoga sessions and other tools. A detailed periodization plan is in place and formulated in collaboration with the Head Coach and staff.

I believe we have a great mix of young and experienced players in our team. We believe in the quality of the players we have brought in during the transfer window as well as those we have retained since last season. Since starting our pre-season training in Kolkata, we have been using high-end technology and sports science tools like GPS and fitness tests to monitor the players. We will be ready for the I-League without any problems.

RoundGlass Punjab training ahead of the 2021-22 I-League. (Image: RoundGlass)
RoundGlass Punjab training ahead of the 2021-22 I-League. (Image: RoundGlass)

Q. The Punjab Senior Division is currently running. Can we expect some of the names from the side playing in the Punjab Super Division to make their way into the I-League squad?

Our team in the Punjab State Super Football League is our reserve side, consisting of a mix of youngsters from our first team, trialists and young players from our Academy. We watch every game and evaluate the performances of the team and individual players. We certainly have open spots for our First Team. One of our main objectives is to sign young players and bring them to the professional level.

Nurturing creativity and strategic play in our young players at RoundGlass Punjab Football Academy #RGPFC ⚽ #RGPFA#PunjabInSpirit #IndianFootball

Q. How is the club working towards getting more Punjab-based footballers into the fray as far as the I-League is concerned?

One of the key long-term missions of RoundGlass Punjab FC is redefining football coaching, infrastructure, and grassroots development in Punjab with the aim of identifying and nurturing talent in players and coaches to international standards.

We recently opened six Grassroots Centers and three Development Centers in Punjab in January this year, and plan to start 25 of them in all by the end of 2022. We have already started trials in these centers and across different parts of the state, from where we have identified nearly 100 talented players between the U-10 and U-15 age groups.

We are planning to start the next series of trials at our training facilities in Mohali. Simultaneously, we have already created a group of U-10 players exclusively from our Development Centers in Punjab, which will feed our elite youth program. The objective is to create a good foundation for players from the state across all youth age groups, which will ultimately have an impact on Indian football as a whole at a macro level in the future.

Q. RoundGlass Punjab had their first training session at the start of the month. Will the club play some friendlies with local sides in Kolkata?

We are in talks with the Head Coach to prepare a calendar for friendly games and have a plan to have 8-10 matches till the end of pre-season. Kolkata is called the Mecca of Indian football and we are looking forward to playing against good quality professional teams.

Q. Sides like Mohammedan SC and Gokulam Kerala FC come into the I-League after playing in the Durand Cup. Why did RoundGlass Punjab not play in the prestigious tournament? Do you think the team should have played in the Durand Cup and gained some pre-season matchday experience?

I saw all the games from the Durand Cup and can say that it was a very good and competitive tournament. I have great respect for the rich legacy and history of the competition. It was good to see a lot of top-quality teams take part and we are planning to participate in it next season.

This year, it did not fit with the current plan that we had prepared with the coaching staff. We had already formulated our plans for pre-season friendly games and unfortunately, the Durand Cup dates did not fit in our calendar.

Q. Can we get an insight into the non-first team projects in RoundGlass Punjab? What other areas are the clubs working in apart from the I-League and Punjab Super Division?

RoundGlass Punjab FC has a fully-residential academy with 130 players in Mohali, with best-in-class modern facilities like hostels, learning centers and kitchens. Very recently, we finished building a new medical facility, gym, and recreation room as well. Along with footballing development, a key priority for us is the holistic well-being of our players.

Talented youngsters invited from all over Punjab undergoing trials at Kurali under the watchful eyes of our Football Director, Nikoloas Topoliatis and Chief Scout @brsoccerexpress . #RGPFC #protrials #creatingopportunities #PunjabInSpirit #indianfootball ⚽

At the moment, we have youngsters from the seven age groups there. We worked from January to April last year in a bio-bubble environment with strict SOPs and safety restrictions. Since April 2020, we have been working remotely with all our players through a comprehensive and unique plan that covers their learning, strength, conditioning, yoga, and well-being. All the players have been participating enthusiastically and have improved themselves over this period. At the same time, we have also been conducting seminars with our coaches and staff to upskill them.

We are now looking forward to restarting physically in November with all our age group teams, again with a strict bio-bubble environment to ensure safety. We will continue our curriculum with them, to help the players grow as footballers, be happy and express themselves.

Edited by Habil Ahmed Sherule
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