Sabir Pasha: Want to produce top-quality local talent for Chennaiyin

The former Tamil Nadu-born forward, who has been heading the AIFF Elite Academy since 2014, spoke to Sportstar on his blueprint for grassroots development, focus points of the project and his mission to scout local talent for Chennaiyin FC.

A 2012 file photo of SabirPasha coaching the Tamil Nadu State football probables at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai.   -  K. Pichumani

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is an idiom Chennaiyin FC is choosing to ignore as, earlier last week, it appointed Syed Sabir Pasha to join the ranks of its champion squad as its new assistant coach and head of grassroots development.

This move will add to the local flavour of the team, something Chennaiyin FC desperately lacks.

The former Tamil Nadu-born forward, who has been heading the AIFF Elite Academy since 2014, spoke to Sportstar on his blueprint for grassroots development, focus points of the project and his mission to scout local talent for Chennaiyin FC.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: What is your immediate plan of action for grassroots development?

Answer: Chennaiyin FC has been doing a great job at the grassroots level, encouraging more kids to play football and consider it as a career option. I have to continue that great work and at the same time add my expertise.

How much of the State of Tamil Nadu will the grassroots programme cover? Which areas/regions will be the points of focus?

We will try to cover as much of the State as possible but we will not give any special importance to any particular region. Wherever there is talent, we will grab it.

Any specific sections of society the grassroots programme will target?

We are trying to look for talent everywhere and every section of the society. The emphasis will be on getting kids to love the sport and at the same time develop their skills.

Being a Tamil Nadu-born player, your on-ground knowledge of the football scene in the State is a big boost for the ISL champions…

It helps but also brings more responsibility. I am looking forward to it.

Chennaiyin FC has not seen a local player don the jersey. Are you scouting potential talent for the club?

I had a discussion with the club management and I can tell you there were significant factors behind it. In the first season, Chennaiyin inherited the team from another city franchise. By the time we took over, the very best players of Tamil Nadu were already with other teams. ISL rules in the first two seasons made it a must for players to be in the I-League in order to play in the ISL. Hence, there wasn’t an option to pick anyone from the Chennai league.

Last year Dhanpal Ganesh was signed but unfortunately, he suffered a serious injury while on India duty. This year there is a provision for picking non I-League players so we are keeping a close eye on local talent.

You’ve headed the AIFF Elite Academy, which is a production wheel of talent for the National Team, since 2014. Will that trickle down to Chennaiyin FC?

The experience I got while coaching in the AIFF Elite Academy has helped me immensely to develop as a coach. You know what used to hurt me while being coach there was the lack of talent from Tamil Nadu even in the Indian youth teams. We at Chennaiyin FC are committed to change that and produce top-quality talent from the State, both for Chennaiyin’s first team and the India national team in the coming years.