Old warhorses reunite in India's quest for maiden AFC U23 Championship berth

Venkatesh Shanmugam and Derrick Pereira have been named as coaches of the India under-23 football team.

Venkatesh Shanmugam (right) is in conversation with Derrick Pereira (centre) and Gumpe Rime (left).   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A closely-knit family, Indian football continues to overcome limitations while welcoming new members with both hands. Thinking back to 1997, Derrick Pereira and Venkatesh Shanmugam had been two of the pivotal members of the Salgaocar FC squad which won the Federation Cup, overpowering East Bengal at Salt Lake Stadium.

Fast forward eight years, Venkatesh, who is fondly known as Venky, played under the stewardship of Pereira in a star-studded Mahindra United club, which won every silverware in India during its era. In 2008, they reunited once again at Pune FC before Venkatesh hung up his boots in 2014.

"Venky was someone who had always contributed to the team and I really liked his style and game reading. He was an intelligent player throughout."

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Cut to 2019, these two footballing greats have joined hands once again, this time for a different cause.

With the All India Football Federation (AIFF) handing Pereira the challenging task of taking India to a maiden AFC Under-23 Championship in history, no one could have been better suited to share his acumen than the former national skipper Venkatesh.

"Now that both of us are together, we feel we'll be complementing each other. Venky brings in a huge experience of working with Stephen Constantine which has helped him evolve as a coach with time. Given the circumstances, I'm sure we'll enjoy the journey ahead," Pereira stated.

"I still remember the Federation Cup win for Salgaocar FC, beating East Bengal in Kolkata was not easy and we felt like being at the top of the world. We have come a long way since then and now we have reunited once again," Venkatesh commented.

Venkatesh added further, "Derrick sir had accomplished a lot as a coach and as far as I know him, I feel it'll be a great opportunity for these young boys to learn from this great football mind." 

On the other hand, goalkeeping coach Gumpe Rime had also plied his trade under Pereira in Vasco for a year (2000-01).

Pereira recalled, "Gumpe was a really tough goalkeeper and he was always eager to learn. Unfortunately, an injury cut short his time in Vasco and we brought in Rogerio Ramos. It's great to work with him once again."

Incidentally, Rogerio Ramos happened to be the former goalkeeping coach for the India national team for the last four years.

"It's my second stint with national team setup and I am privileged to get this opportunity once again. Derrick sir is someone who I always had high regards for and I can't wait to start working with him as well as the young promising goalies", Rime added too.

India is pitted against host Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan in the AFC Under-23 Championship 2020 qualifiers, which is scheduled to be played at Tashkent between March 22 and 26.