Home-grown trailblazers: The greatest Indian coaches in football

Foreign coaches have gained prominence in recent years in Indian football, but here are some of the greatest Indian coaches.

Arguably the best footballer of his generation and beyond, P. K. Banerjee also made his mark as one of the greatest coaches produced in the country. His heart-on-sleeve attitude and man-management skills helped bring the best out of his players. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The last decade in Indian football has seen an influx of foreign coaches in both the Indian Super League and the I-League. While the ISL’s rule only allows foreign names as head coaches, several I-League teams have sought coaches from abroad. The recent ISL season saw the likes of Clifford Miranda and Khalid Jamil oversee the coaching role on an interim basis but are often overshadowed for the majority of the season by the high-profile names from overseas.

With the Indian coaches reduced to the periphery in recent times, Sportstar take a look back at some of the greatest coaches India has produced in both the 20th century and early 21st.

Syed Abdul Rahim

Rahim is considered to be the greatest coach the country has produced while India also had its best years on the international stage under his stewardship. His success at Hyderabad City Police earned him the national team job in the 1950s. His high points with the Indian team include finishing fourth in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and winning gold medals at the Asian Games in 1951 and 1962.

Rahim, who was also a teacher by profession, was considered a strict disciplinarian and a great tactician. Rahim is known to make the best out of his limited resources available at his disposal. In the book ‘Barefoot to Boots’, Rahim’s son S. A. Hakeem, who played in the 1960 Olympics under his father, explains that the coach would conduct non-dribbling tournaments to help improve one-touch play and would also conduct weaker-leg tournaments, where the players would use only their weaker foot to play.

He laid the foundations for Hyderabad unearthing talents between the years 1960 and 1990. He is said to have used the 4-2-4 system with the Indian team before Brazil popularised it in the 1958 World Cup.

Amal Dutta

Amal Dutta was a midfielder in his playing days without much success but it was his career as a coach which earned him plenty of recognition and honours. He was well known for his tactical innovations and reading of the game.

However, he coached the national team for only a year after he had run-ins with the establishment due to his critical remarks of them. Indian team’s loss was club football’s gain. He won trophies at all three Kolkata giants – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting; 39 in total.

Dutta went to England to complete a one-year coaching course with the Football Association before returning to India and became a full-time coach, considered to be among the first, in the early 60s. He introduced the 4-4-2 and the 3-4-3 playing system in Indian football with the latter formation earning rave reviews during his time at Mohun Bagan for the attacking football it displayed.

With P. K. Banerjee, another coaching great of Indian football, and Dutta enjoying their best years at both Bagan and East Bengal, their rivalry on the touchline of the Kolkata Derby made for intriguing viewing in the 80s and 90s.

P. K. Banerjee

Arguably the best footballer of his generation and beyond, Banerjee also made his mark as one of the greatest coaches produced in the country. Rahim’s player during his time as the national team coach in the 1950s, Banerjee, too, went on to coach India. India claimed bronze in the 1970 Asian Games – nation’s last medal at the Games.

His heart-on-sleeve attitude and man-management skills helped bring the best out of his players. He roused the players with his emotions, passion and anecdotes to instil confidence in his players. He set his team out to play effective football; an organised defence that broke swiftly from defence to attack and which was largely reliant on individual brilliance to produce results.

Banerjee helped East Bengal win the 1972 Calcutta Football League and till date, it is the only team after independence to take the title without conceding a single goal. While he also had success with Bagan, it was at the Red and Golds he spent the majority of his career and won over 30 trophies.

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Armando Colaco

In what was his first stint as a coach, Goan-born Armando Colaco pulled Dempo SC out of the wilderness and made it one of the most successful Indian teams of this century. Under his management, Dempo won the National Football League twice and the I-League thrice while playing attractive football. The club also won the Federation Cup, Durand Cup and the Super Cup twice. Dempo also reached the semifinals of the 2008 AFC Cup.

Armando Colaco, then India coach, at Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi on July 02, 2011. - R. V. MOORTHY


His teams played swift-passing, flowing football which laid emphasis on quick interchange in positions both in and out of possession. He spent a year as Indian coach which came to an end on a sour note after he broke protocol and failed to put out a team in a friendly against Barbados. Colaco’s high point as national team coach was the 2-1 win over Qatar in 2011. His time as Dempo coach ended in 2013 after a fallout with management and he was sacked after a season at East Bengal.

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The 66-year-old went on to coach FC Bardez in the Goa Professional League and is currently the coach of SESA Football Academy.

Syed Nayeemuddin

A classy defender for both club and country during his playing days, Nayeemduddin went into coaching after an injury ended his career as a player. He was briefly mentored by Rahim at Andhra Police team and he went on to take various coaching lessons both in India and abroad.

After a fairly successful stint as coach at Mohammedan Sporting, Nayeemuddin was appointed as the national coach in 1987 but his style of football was considered rigid. When he took over as East Bengal coach in 1990, he transformed his playbook and in the process the fortunes at the club. East Bengal remained undefeated for the rest of the season and claimed the CFL, IFA Shield and the Durand Cup. In between the years 1990 and 1995, he won 25 trophies while managing both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

Nayeemuddin also had two more spells with the Indian team, with the third tenure in 2006 coming to an abrupt end. He was considered a disciplinarian with strong attention to detail, while constantly introducing new ideas to help his players gain an advantage on the pitch.

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