Barreto’s high with black stars

“For India, the way forward is to invest in youth,” says Mariano Barreto, a UEFA Pro Licence holder and coach of Indian origin. By Nandakumar Marar.

Mariano Barreto, an Indian-born UEFA Pro Licence holder, has been involved with popular football-playing nations such as Ghana, Russia and Portugal, working in various capacities ranging from national team manager, club manager and assistant coach to fitness expert. He was also a member of the coaching staff at Sporting Lisbon (Portugal), Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia) and managed Al Qadisiyah FC in Saudi Arabia and Al Ahli in Bahrain.

However, the high point of his career was with Ghana in 2004. During Barreto’s nine-month stint as manager, the Black Stars drew with Italy 2-2 and defeated Paraguay 2-1 in the group stage of the 2004 Athens Olympics before a 1-0 defeat to Japan denied the African team, led by Juventus’ playmaker Stephen Appiah, a place in the next phase. Barreto continued with the same core group for the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers as Ghana defeated South Africa 3-0.

It isn’t surprising that the 56-year-old coach rates his stint with Ghana as his most cherished managerial experience. This despite the fact that he had to leave for Portugal abruptly following criticism of his team’s performances and citing threats to his life. “When I took charge, we made youth team development as the target. Ghana always had good players, but the main problem was organisation. Ghana played in the Athens Olympics and with the same youngsters built the squad for the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers.”

According to Barreto, the foreign academies in Ghana were chiefly responsible for players from the African nation being signed up by clubs in different countries. “Feyenoord and Ajax are there; English clubs have their academies there. The coaches in these academies pass on the knowledge to the young Ghanaians — not just football knowledge but overall. Playing football does not mean just playing with your feet; you need to think using your brain,” he explained.

The European clubs investing in football academies and youth development in Ghana have the first choice of picking junior talent. “For India, the way forward is to invest in youth. With millions of people and thousands of footballers, the challenge is to develop quality players. You have to give time for any plan to show results,” said Barreto.

“Football follows a cycle, like most pro sports. It is either an Olympic cycle or World Cup cycle. But people in India want results tomorrow itself,” he added.

Talking of his experience in Russia, Barreto said: “When I went to Russia, it was already a major sporting nation, winning medals in different sport at the Olympics. They were strong physically. However, in football we had problems in finding exceptional talent, of the calibre of Lev Yashin and other legends of their time. After joining Lokomotiv, I realised that there were two schools of thought regarding grooming of talent. One school thought that players are born with skill, while the other felt skills can be learnt under a good teacher.”

Barreto subscribes to the second line of thought. “I am a teacher and believe that while it is important to have skills, players ready for hard work can become match-winners. I proved it with the Russians. Marat Izmailov (loaned by Sporting Lisbon to FC Porto in January 2013) became a star,” he said.

A frequent visitor to India on holiday, Barreto is appreciative of the Goan government’s decision to adopt football as the state’s official sport. “I am proud of my Indian identity (he was born in Ribandar, Goa) and will be happy to help Goa and India. You need many playing street football, more street tournaments. Players such as Maradona, Messi and Ronaldo began in the street. They were poor boys. Talent scouts picked them and put them in clubs where they learnt the organised way of playing the game. From there to the national squad and it polished their talent further,” he said.

As one of the foreign speakers at the Goa Football Development Council’s conference, GIFT 2013, Barreto said he was ready to utilise his links with Portugal to help Indian and Goan football. “It is important for India to send its best talent, along with coaches to places like Sporting Lisbon.

“It has the best set-up for football development, having groomed players like Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paolo Sousa, to name a few,” said Barreto, who was one of the applicants for the post of chief coach of the Indian team following Bob Houghton’s exit in 2011.