Luis Matos: ‘Respect me, don’t fear me’

While Nicolai Adam was intense and demanding, Luis Norton de Matos believes in a different approach to team-building — that of an experienced family elder coaxing kids to play better as a group.

Luis Norton de Matos took charge in awkward circumstances, after players revolted against the German for the way they were mistreated.   -  AIFF

 

Luis Norton de Matos, 63, recently replaced Nicolai Adam, 39, as India coach for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017. The Portuguese took charge in awkward circumstances, after players revolted against the German for the way they were mistreated. Adams was asked to leave after the players complained to the AIFF about his high-handedness and Matos took charge seven months before the World Cup in India.

While Adam was intense and demanding, Matos believes in a different approach to team-building — that of an experienced family elder coaxing kids to play better as a group. The coach says, “Respect me, don’t fear me. They (players) must be free in their minds to play, to put everything they have into this World Cup project. They must enjoy what they do, a footballer is not a machine. Nobody is perfect.”

The Indian probables are adjusting to the change, from training under a German in 2015 at camps in Germany and other places to getting familiar with his replacement from Portugal. Matos and his young team are in Lisbon for practice matches against U-17 club sides, and will then travel to Italy, Hungary and Spain.

He spoke to Sportstar during a stop-over at the D.Y. Patil stadium in Mumbai and discussed the road ahead. Excerpts:

Q: You accepted the India coaching offer when the World Cup was seven months away. Reasons for the decision?

A: I’m glad to get the possibility to come for this project and help India prepare for the World Cup. Every World Cup is the same when it happens the first time, whether U-17, U-20 or seniors. This is my first time here. When I accepted this assignment, the motivation is to start something very new in a country with no tradition in football.

The boys understand that the World Cup is a very big opportunity to continue in football in a professional way. They are very honest in their work. For me, it is not a surprise because this is the same mentality that the Africans have. I was surprised by the intensity they put in training. The Indian boys want to win and understood very quickly that the team is important. The more difficult training is, the better it will be later. You must suffer in training, for matches to be easier.

How is your rapport with the boys?

I believe in human beings, so when a player comes to me and informs he is injured, I believe him. ‘Don’t be afraid of coming to me’ is my message to them. Respect me, don’t fear me. They must be free in their minds to play, to put everything they have into this World Cup project. They must enjoy what they do, a footballer is not a machine. Nobody is perfect. I don’t mind mistakes when I see the boy is wanting to do the best he can.

Every culture is different, the way to understand the boys is different. Every culture also wants to win. These boys are normal adolescents, with expectations and doubts. I try to understand, bring my experience into play and try not to kill their enthusiasm. Portuguese football is about relaxing with the ball, enjoying playing with the ball. Discipline is important and if the Indians keep the discipline, even if we have one percent chance to win a game, you can grab it.

The boys understand that the World Cup is a very big opportunity to continue in football in a professional way. They are very honest in their work. For me, it is not a surprise because this is the same mentality that the Africans have. I was surprised by the intensity they put in training. The Indian boys want to win and understood very quickly that the team is important.

Hamburg was the training base when Nicolai Adam was coaching. Lisbon is hosting the U-17 boys. How soon will the boys adapt to change from German thinking to Portuguese approach?

It is normal for the training base to be in Germany under a German coach. I decided to take the boys to Portugal due to excellent pitches, quality of opponents and weather. My nation is known for being cosmopolitan, receives visitors well and there is no racism. The first training base in Portugal is similar to Goa. From there we travel to France, Italy, Hungary and Spain. Football culture in each place is different, so when the boys finish this phase, I think they will be mentally prepared to face any team in the world.

What can the boys expect to learn in Portugal and Europe?

The Indian boys will be exposed to Latin and European football. Five friendly games will be against opposition of high quality. For example, Benfica has six players on the Portugal national team, so does Sporting Lisbon. Difficult games will show our mistakes. I want to identify collective mistakes so that we can build the team. We must be honest. On paper, India is one of the weakest sides. I want to reduce the gap between India and other teams.

It is also important for the boys to believe that the task is not impossible. Japan, South Korea, United States and China developed in football because of its strength in organization. This World Cup must change the thinking of youngsters in this cricket country. U-17 is for the youth. Indian population has a huge proportion of young people. The World Cup will push players to the forefront. In all corners of the world, there is talent. India for sure has talent.

Matos says the India U-17 team will be exposed to Latin and European football. Five friendly games will be against opposition of high quality   -  AIFF

 

It is said that Indian football lags in the transition from junior to senior side. What age should should be targeted for development of football in India?

It is a question of the clubs’ mentality. As we said about Portugal, it is important to start something new. A player in the U-17 age group can play national-level competitions. Cesc Fabregas got his first game with Arsenal at 16; 17-year-olds play in Italian, England and Portuguese clubs.

Indian clubs should not be afraid of picking young players for national competitions and the senior national side. The U-17 team is the base for future. If not all of them, the best among them certainly. Indian clubs in the national league and Indian Super League must understand this and include the World Cuppers in their squad.

The Indian boys will be exposed to Latin and European football. Five friendly games will be against opposition of high quality. For example, Benfica has six players on the Portugal national team, so does Sporting Lisbon. Difficult games will show our mistakes,.

How has the support from AIFF been towards team preparation? Your thoughts on working with India U-17 CEO Abhishek Yadav...

I feel positive energy here, people want to grasp information. The boys, coaching staff and support staff, everybody has a notion of responsibility towards the nation. Abhishek (Yadav) understands football from a former international player’s perspective. It is easy to work with him, unlike others, who may understand the business of football but not the game. He understands the importance of nutrition, the need to avoid playing twice within 72 hours.

Can Indian football take off after the U-17 World Cup?

In most nations — Portugal, Brazil, Africa or India — football talent is found amidst poor people. Nutrition and medical care becomes very important. Training methods also help. The earlier they start, the better the chances of changing the way they play. I explained to the federation that this U-17 group must continue (playing). It is the base for U-20 in future. There is a U-15 group training in Goa. India needs projects behind this World Cup project.

Your thoughts on the future of Portugal football? 2016 was a season of success there. The men won UEFA Euro (beating France at Saint Dennis) and the U-16 team was champion in Europe (beating Spain in UEFA U-17 Championships 2016 at Azerbaijan)...

Portugal football has a big future, since the organsation of the federation in 1987-88 and winning the FIFA U-21 World Cup in 1991 (Portgual beat Brazil in the final at Lisbon). Champion players like Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto came from that squad; came through the ranks to international football. Something extraordinary in Portuguese football is that everyone— from federation to clubs— wants youngsters to get opportunities. The message to the world is that, football history will be written by young players.

When you spot a football talent in Portugal at 16, the player has at least eight years of competition experience, starting from seven or eight years old. The structure for competition is very organised for various age groups. It means such players are confident and have possibly played numerous international games and are integrated with good academies.

From your experience at the football academy in Senegal and the job with Guinea-Bissau national squad, do you feel Africa will remain a gold mine for talent spotters from Euro clubs to pick fresh talent?

Africa is an enormous continent, and there is football in every corner. Watching street sport in India, I saw kids playing cricket. Senegal has a culture of football. In Senegal or Guinea-Bissau for example, at 7 oçlock in the morning, 300 boys can be seen playing football across two or three fields. The scene is repeated in the evening. There is French Africa, there is English Africa (nations which were former French or English colonies) and the other African nations in the north like Morocco, Algeria. African football is ready to adapt and European football is ready to receive talent from this continent.

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