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Wim Koevermans vs Bob Houghton: A comparative analysis

Wim Koevermans is under pressure to win the SAFF Championship next month

Wim Koevermans is under pressure to win the SAFF Championship next month

Wim Koevermans’s reign as India head coach got off to a positive start last year as he guided the nation to their third straight Nehru Cup success. There was renewed optimism among fans as they were also hopeful of seeing a new playing style evolve under the Dutchman.

But almost 12 months after that Nehru Cup triumph, the opinion about Koevermans in many quarters has changed drastically and is under immense pressure to win next month’s SAFF Championship in Nepal.

Former players and coaches in India have been consistently critical about any foreign coach, lamenting the superior facilities that any foreigner enjoys. However, the majority of Indian football fans also have now turned against Koevermans following the failure to qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup and the latest defeat to Tajikistan has only added to the discontent.

That loss to Tajikistan was the third straight international friendly defeat for India under Koevermans and many people believe he is not the right man to take the national team forward. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das was recently quoted saying in a Bengali sports show that the Dutchman won’t be sacked until the expiry of his contract in June next year.

But fans and some sections of the media seems to have lost faith in Koevermans already. Many draw comparisons with Bob Houghton, who is statistically India’s most successful foreign coach. Some people even referred to the 4-1 win that India enjoyed over Tajikistan five years ago to suggest how far the national team has fallen behind since Houghton’s departure.

Sportskeeda too explained how the national team has gone backwards since their historic appearance in the 2011 Asian Cup but in comparison to Houghton has Koevermans’ tenure really been that bad? Let’s find out.

Results

Koevermans enjoyed a good start

Koevermans enjoyed a good start

A coach is always judged on the basis of results and on this aspect Koevermans has matched Houghton so far. The Dutchman has won four out of nine official games and like Houghton, his first tournament success came on home soil in the Nehru Cup.

The standard of teams in the two Nehru Cups that India won under Houghton was questionable and the same can be said for Koevermans too as he registered wins over Maldives and a second string Syria side before beating Cameroon ‘B’ on penalties in the final.

Fans will point to the fact that Houghton secured qualification for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup with a young side back in March 2011 but it’s worth noting that rules of qualification were different. Two teams from a group of four were assured of qualification for the 2012 edition and India secured their place with wins over lower-ranked Chinese Taipei and Pakistan before managing a draw against Turkmenistan in a dead rubber to finish top of the group on goals scored.

India failed to qualify for the 2014 Challenge Cup under Koevermans but the procedure was slightly tricky as only one out of four teams was guaranteed automatic qualification. India defeated Chinese Taipei and Guam but lost in the last game against hosts Myanmar. Back during the 2012 qualifiers, all matches were played in a neutral venue, Malaysia, and Houghton’s India side were not under pressure to get a result against the home team like in the case of Koevermans.

Houghton’s biggest achievement was qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup by winning the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup but India were the hosts for that tournament. AIFF failed to give Koevermans home advantage for the 2014 edition as Maldives won the hosting rights or else the Dutchman would have rightly been under pressure to do what Houghton achieved five years ago.

Bob Houghton had a poor record outside India

Bob Houghton had a poor record outside India

India’s record in away international friendlies has been dismal over the years. That didn’t change under Houghton and continued under Koevermans as the defeat to Tajikistan extended their winless streak to 16 matches over a period of more than eight years.

It’s true that some of the 20 defeats suffered by Houghton in 45 matches have come against top teams like Australia, Bahrain, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia but most of the 20 wins came against developing or emerging Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan (2), Pakistan (2), Chinese Taipei (2), Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan etc.

Houghton also suffered defeats against nations which India are capable of beating like Lebanon (2), Syria (2), Hong Kong (2) etc.

The most notable disappointment in the Houghton era though was the failure to win the SAFF Championship in 2008 and that is where Koevermans has the chance to put one over the Englishman if he triumphs in Nepal next month.

Here is a statistical comparison of the two coaches. Very clearly, there is hardly any difference.

CoachBob HoughtonWim Koevermans
Winning Percentage44.444.4
Tournaments won/Tournaments played3/51/1
Tournaments won at home31
Away international friendlies won/Away international friendlies played0/50/2

Playing Style

After his appointment last year, the biggest improvement Koevermans was expected to bring was a new and attractive playing style. India were tipped to play the ‘Dutch way’ but it wasn’t ever going to be a swift transition from Houghton’s ‘direct-football’ to the ‘short-passing game’.

Many people criticised Houghton for the British style that was used for the Indian national team but in truth the former Malmo coach only focused on getting the basics right. It wasn’t pleasing on the eye but made perfect sense as Indian players had been trained all their life to play mostly in a 4-4-2 system, so, it was easier to coach them in a direct style with huge emphasis on set-pieces.

It turned out to be a sensible move as many of India’s goals in big games during the Houghton era came from set-pieces and even their first goal at the 2011 Asian Cup was from a well-worked freekick.

The national team is still getting used to the short-passing style (Photo Credit: AIFF Media)

The national team is still getting used to the short-passing style(Photo Credit: AIFF Media)

The team under Koevermans operates in a 4-4-1-1 system with plenty of short passes but still they have looked more dangerous with two strikers upfront and scored plenty of goals from set-pieces.

The unfamiliarity with the short-passing style was well evident in the crucial AFC Challenge Cup qualifier 1-0 defeat to Myanmar in March, when the players failed to keep possession and aimlessly hit long balls.

Koevermans will need more time to bring in that new style and the dearth of playmakers in Indian football will make his task even tougher.

To be frank, if results don’t go his way, the 53-year-old won’t be given much time and the new style of play will only evolve if it is used seriously across all the age-group teams and clubs.

So to sum up, no new playing style has evolved as most of the Indian players are still comfortable with the Houghton way.

So where’s the BIG difference?

Koevermans has stressed the importance of playing international friendlies regularly to get used to the worldwide trend of not having a long camp before a match. During Houghton’s tenure though, besides the year leading up to the 2011 Asian Cup, India hardly played one-off friendlies and when they did, the results weren’t great.

The Englishman was always keen on long exposure camps abroad but more importantly demanded better facilities for the national team’s preparations. This was something first seen during Stephen Constantine’s reign but completely taken forward by Houghton and it changed the mentality of Indian players as the better facilities, foreign tours gave them an added motivation to play for the national team and created better understanding and team unity which was vital in winning the AFC Challenge Cup to qualify for the Asian Cup.

Bob Houghton ensured the national team had adequate preparation before any big tournament

Bob Houghton ensured the national team had adequate preparation before any big tournament

Under Houghton, India took a big step in international football by improving among the developing and emerging nations of Asia. The Englishman was well placed to take India to the next level in the continent with a new young group of players emerging from his recommended ‘Indian Arrows’ project. But Houghton’s departure was untimely and pushed backed the development of the national team.

His successor Armando Colaco wasn’t given much time, while the national team reached a new low under Savio Medeira by crashing out of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup group stage.

Ever since Koevermans took over, he faced the task of once again rebuilding India’s status among Asia’s developing and emerging nations with a team in transition, as all Houghton’s hard work was undone in the 18 months following his exit.

So going to the next level was always going to be a near impossible task, yet unlike Houghton, Koevermans is willing to play one off friendlies against stronger teams regularly and hasn’t even had one exposure tour abroad to train under top class facilities.

The Indian federation’s financial problems will not even allow the former Holland international to play friendlies on a regular basis with just three such matches so far in 13 months. So a result like the one against Tajikistan last week shouldn’t be much of a shock.

Verdict

Hougthon’s contribution to Indian football can never be undermined as he brought India back among Asia’s elite after almost three decades and with more time could have possibly improved the national team further.

Koevermans has inherited a team in transition

Koevermans has inherited a team in transition

But it would be unfair to not give Koevermans some more time especially considering that he hasn’t done much worse than the Englishman.

The Indian national team currently is work a progress with half of the current squad not even having 10 international appearances. Having said that, success in next month’s SAFF Championship is mandatory for Koevermans despite the improvements of teams like Maldives and Afghanistan.

Even currently on paper, India have the quality to retain the regional title and if that is achieved Koevermans should be given a new contract. If not, question marks about Koevermans’ future as India coach will grow further.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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