For three years David Robertson has been coming to Srinagar as coach of Real Kashmir. It was like jumping into something completely “raw and unique”, he says, coming from the rarefied environs of the English and Scottish Premier Leagues.
Since that first visit in January 2017, when he almost quit and went back, the stays have only become longer to the extent of it becoming a “second home” for the Scotsman. “Everything was strange but the owners, Shamim and Sandeep, convinced me to come back and I am glad they did. From a few weeks to a couple of months to almost eight months this time, it has been increasing and now when I go back, I miss Kashmir,” Robertson said in an interaction here.
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From winning the 2nd Division I-League to finishing 3rd in the top flight last season, RKFC has gone from being underdogs to contenders in just three years. A lot of credit for that, the players feel, goes to the coach who brings a lot of positivity.
That positivity, Robertson admitted, was important when it came to handling the players during their recent outings amidst the communication clampdown. “We had just arrived in Kolkata (for Durand Cup) and weren’t sure of how the local players were going to get there. For the first time in their lives, they couldn’t contact their homes. They didn’t know when they would go back and needed support. I know the Indian culture is of coaches being tough on players but I had to be different and let them know the coach had their back,” Robertson explained.
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It was tough to keep the players motivated through the five months of pre-season even as the state continued to face struggles but Robertson prefers to look at the positives of the extended period of staying together on the road. “We played a lot of ISL teams – five of them – in our pre-season and it was great preparation for the season. But we were just relieved to get the first game out of the way!
“The game against TRAU was, in a way, the first time ever this club and players were under pressure. Even in the second division, we were never the favourites to win. They are a promoted side and we have never played them before. But here we were expected to win and we did start well but then they fought back in the second half for a draw. To be honest, we thought we could lose the game but the players rallied around,” he admits.
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As for the season ahead, Robertson is only looking as far as Sunday. “With some clubs, you do pinch yourself. Like, 18 months ago you were in the 2nd Division and now you are playing the oldest club in India, with the most history. It is an honour for them to come here. At the same time, we got to go out there and prove we are not a one-season wonder. It is not just about Kashmir anymore, the whole world knows and is watching us,” he signed off.
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