Trevor Morgan: ‘It has been a humbling experience in India’

The English coach of East Bengal reflects on his time in India and discusses a variety of issues concerning Indian football, in a chat with Sportstar.

Trevor Morgan believes a promotion and relegation system is necessary for a two-tier system to work well.   -  H. Vibhu

“This is a good time to be a footballer in India. Earlier, there used to be a bit of unpredictability but now it can be seen as a career,” said Trevor Morgan, the coach of East Bengal.

Morgan’s words carry a lot of weight because he is a veteran of Indian football and also one of the most successful foreign coaches India has seen. He came on the scene in 2010 as coach of East Bengal and managed the club till 2013, before moving to Indian Super League with the Kerala Blasters as the assistant coach. He followed it up with a stint at Dempo before returning to East Bengal.

The Englishman, in a candid chat with Sportstar, reflected on his time in India and discussed a variety of issues concerning Indian football.

“I came to India with an open mind, I wasn’t expecting facilities of the highest standard. I decided to take what it is and deal with it. It has been a humbling experience for me so far. I remember going to the supermarket and people touching my feet. The kind of support I have got has been kind of strange for me,” said Morgan.

He has also experienced the other end of the emotional spectrum from the frenzied fans. “We were on a 32-match unbeaten run, but then lost two matches back-to-back, rocks were thrown at the team and I was spat on. The emotions rise very quickly here and I understand that. It's a bit different from where I grew up, but you have to take it,” he recalled.

Morgan has had his share of his highs and lows. He won eight trophies with the Bengal outfit, including the Calcutta League four times and also helped Kerala Blasters reach the ISL final. An I-League title has, however, eluded him thus far and he is hoping to set that record straight this year. “We started the season well, then had a few hiccups and got ourselves back on track with a good run, but shot ourselves in the foot against Churchill.”

Morgan came in for harsh criticism after the loss, but he remains optimistic. “Football is an unpredictable game. We have very interesting final four games to come after the break, everybody is writing us off because we lost to Churchill but it doesn’t matter for me where we are now. What matters is where you finish when the referee blows the whistle after the final game.”

His relationship with the board too has been strained but that’s not something he is worried about. “You can’t please everybody, I have realised that. There are some people you get along with and some you don’t. But we are all pulling in the right direction, so there is no problem.”

The 60-year-old also praised Aizawl FC, saying the team could go on to be the Leicester City of India. “Coming from where they were last season, Aizawl has been magnificent. But it’s not surprising. Nothing really surprises me in this league. Any team can beat any other team on its day. There will be more upsets until the end of the season.”

Morgan said Aizawl’s players have gelled well and the coach (Khalid Jamil) has bought in his philosophy which has made the team tough to beat. “Mumbai was always a tough team to beat, they never scored many goals but at the same time didn’t concede many. Same is true with Aizawl. They aren’t prolific but they manage to win and get the points.”

I-league-ISL merger

Morgan felt that the ISL is good for Indian players, but any merger will be useful only if there is scope for promotion and relegation. “With all due respect to Indian coaches, ISL has bought a lot of foreign coaches and has given the players a different perspective. Also, the players have a chance to earn more money and football can be seen as a career. Another thing is that the players are playing in bigger stadiums with better pitches. Instead of playing on a Tuesday afternoon in front of 25 people, now they’re playing on the weekend under floodlights in front of 60,000 people, so the difference is huge,” Morgan said.

Giving his views on the merger, he added, “If ISL has to be the main league and I-league the second league, then there has to be scope for promotion. If a club fulfils the financial criteria, and has a good stadium then it should be allowed to play in the ISL, otherwise if you win the I-League where will you go? The best players will want to leave the league, and that will affect its quality. Speaking from the players’ perspective, it is obvious for them to move away as they would like to test themselves against the best.”

‘U-17 beneficial only if players make it to senior team’

With India set to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup, a lot of noise is being made about this being the year when football rises in India. Bringing some sense into the noise, Morgan felt that a core group of players needs to make it to the senior team to reap results of the World Cup. “You will get benefits only if some of the players make it to the senior team. You need at least five-six players who move up to that level, and if someone has been in the system for five-years, and moved up, it can only help the team.”

Rumours of Morgan going back to Australia also linger but he remained non-committal on his future, saying he will honour his current contract, which runs till May.