Indian football enthusiasm growing, says former Barcelona academy coach

LLFS India technical director Javier Cabrera opened up on the state of Indian football, talent-scouting in the subcontinent and the e-training programme.

Javier Cabrera says India needs to have a better infrastructure to improve standards of football in the country.   -  Special Arrangement

These are trying times for all athletes, coaches and all the stakeholders associated with the effortless running of sporting events worldwide. While the coronavirus pandemic has shredded the global sports calendar, it has been a tough ride for training academies, as well, many of which have been shut down indefinitely.

La Liga’s grassroots development programme, 'LaLiga Football Schools (LLFS)', however, has commenced e-training to keep kids physically fit during the downtime.

Javier Cabrera, technical director, LLFS India, said over 1,500 kids are attending 60 sessions a week online. In a chat with Sportstar, the former Barcelona Academy coach opened up on the state of Indian football, talent-scouting in the subcontinent, and on talks regarding La Masia graduates not making the first team cut lately.

How successful is the e-training program which LLFS has undertaken? What are the drawbacks, since football is a field sport?

Till now it´s been a huge success. Our coaches and operation teams are doing a fantastic job. We are not finding many drawbacks till now apart from a few connection problems here and there.

Sport is not always only about the physical aspect. It involves the mental well-being of a player too. What do you do to take care of a player's mental health especially during a shutdown like this?

We have created a specific technical program for our students that takes care, not only of their mental health but also other main aspects like nutrition and healthy habits. Everything is connected.

In order to keep ourselves mentally healthy during the lockdown, we need to be physically active at home. We develop sessions that cover from coordination and agility exercises to with-ball technical skills. We even have tactical video sessions and different quiz games.

What is your take on organising sports during a pandemic like this? Should the La Liga return?

La Liga will return when we´ve established all the measures imposed by the government that guarantee the health of the players, coaches, managers, club staff, other stakeholders. And then later, it can also return for the spectators.

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Health and guaranteeing integrity is of utmost importance. As we have done since the beginning, we will comply with the instructions of the health and sports authorities.

It would be very important that the competition returns otherwise the economic damage would be enormous.

You have also been a coach with the Barca Academy in the USA. How different are the two roles?

We have a similar philosophy about football youth development. Both the organizations have great professionals working at the youth levels and our training methodologies have many points in common. I learnt many things there that have been very useful for me at LLFS as a technical director.

What is your take on talks regarding La Masia graduates not making the first team cut often nowadays?

La Masia is a great school of training and education for players, with the methodology and standards of quality recognized at the international level. Many great players of Barcelona have left this academy.

But the objective is not only to nourish own club with great players but also see that they can finish in other great clubs.

In any case, the best league of the world - La Liga - has the most prestigious and quality players, and to reach that level is not easy, and is a great challenge for those that begin.

“The domestic structure has been changing positively in the last four to five years in India at the youth development level. Today, any club or academy in the country, which passes the academy accreditation process, has options to play U13, U15 and U18 I-Leagues.”

You have been in India for quite some time now. As a footballing nation, what do you feel we need to improvise on? Also, what are the bright spots?

Football enthusiasm in India is growing exponentially. In my opinion, there are three aspects that a football country should develop in order to have a proper youth system.

One, infrastructure, for me this is the biggest problem that India is currently facing and there has not been much improvement in the last years. There are very few grounds available in good conditions where a club can develop a proper training methodology.

Two, coaches and education programs. I think, in this matter, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is doing a good job and we are slowly seeing the results. There are interesting young Indian coaches today that are capable of developing good training sessions.

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Three, the competition system. Kids and coaches need to play matches to grow. At the youth level, we need to understand competition as one more part of the learning process, where the kids will understand how to face real situations of the game. Without competition, the process is incomplete. Indian youth competition system has improved in the last years, but there are still areas to work on.

What basic changes would you suggest in the domestic structure of Indian football? What is your take on the footballing leagues?

The domestic structure has been changing positively in the last four to five years in India at the youth development level. Today, any club or academy in the country, which passes the academy accreditation process, has options to play U13, U15 and U18 I-Leagues.

The structure of these competitions still is an area of improvement, especially in the number of matches played per team, but at least there are options for the kids to play official matches in almost every state of the country.


Javier Cabrera speaking to LLFS India trainees.   -  Special Arrangement


Besides these competitions, now we have the baby leagues, by far the best initiative that the federation has taken since I arrived in the country. Baby leagues are the perfect stage to nurture Indian talent and are going to become the base of the football pyramid in the country.

What is the correct age for a footballing talent to be spotted?

The sooner the better, I wouldn´t say an exact number. But it is always easier to learn when you are a kid. Talent is not enough to become a professional player, you have to go through a whole learning process that implies much more than just technical skills. You need to understand the game tactically from every angle as well as being physically and mentally prepared. That can only happen if the player trains under a properly structured training methodology with the required coaches.

There were three kids from LLFS who made it to Leganes in 2019. What are those kids doing now? Which is the club which will help train the kids next?

Vidwath (Shetty), Rian (Katoch) and Ishan (Murali) are very talented and still with us. They are the main players of our competition teams in Bengaluru and Mumbai.

We currently have Sevilla F.C., Real Betis and Celta de Vigo associated to LLFS centres in Pune, Bengaluru and Noida, respectively. During the upcoming seasons, we hope to have more clubs joining hands.

How can a kid balance his academic and footballing life?

For us, the academics should always be the priority for a kid, but a proper sports development is also essential. A combination of both suits perfectly and will keep our kids healthier and happier.

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