Colaco, the success behind Dempo

R.V.MOORTHY

Continuity has helped Colaco and his Dempo players to win a record five national championships over the past decade. By Ayon Sengupta.

Be it the high stake games in the EPL or its motley variations in football's third-world, continuity is a rarity in professional football, especially in case of managers. They are the first fall guys after any failures. (Chelsea's tryst with eight managers since 2007 demonstrates the truth behind the above statement. Closer home, India's oldest and most popular soccer club, Mohun Bagan, too, have had eight men at its helm since then). Changes mean turmoil and hence it can rarely precede success. Managers with a freehand and a longer mandate have always worked wonders with clubs. Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger, Matt Busby, the list goes on.

Dempo, managed by 58-year-old, Armando Colaco since 2000, has done away with the Kolkata-giants' (Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting) strangle- hold over Indian football. Continuity has helped Colaco and his players to win a record five national championships over the past decade.

“Keeping them together has always been our ‘mantra'. Our players have played together for years. They understand what I want and I ought to understand what they can give me back,” he says. “If you want results, let the coach have his time.”

Commending his players for title No. 5, Colaco adds: “The boys kept working hard throughout the season. At times we faced difficulties, but (the players) have always risen to the occasion. They have showed character and grit.”

This season has not been easy for the Goan side or Colaco himself. After a brisk start to the I-League campaign, the Goans stuttered midway and only a string of favourable results towards the end saw it ease past the finishing line. “The environment (in Dempo) is full of warmth and affection and we don't put pressure on our players even when we are losing. A happy dressing room has been the key for our success,” he explains.

However, the ill-effects of managing a professional side, the strains attached with it, had found a victim in Colaco. He suffered a cardiac arrest in December last year and was briefly hospitalised and had to undergo an angioplasty to remove three blocks in his arteries. His deputy and former player Mauricio Afonso took charge in his absence. “I always insist on not relying on one single individual. If somebody is not there, someone else will have to fill up the space. It applies for players; it applies for the coaching staff too. When I was not there Mauricio did the job nicely. It speaks about the sort of legacy which we have created in our club,” he says proudly.

But Dempo lost ground during his absence and Colaco was quick to defy doctor's orders and was back with his side well before the “three-month rest period”. “I took a very big risk, but my team needed me and I had to comeback,” he admits.

After unprecedented success in India, Colaco now wants to leave his mark in the Asian scene. “We have been steady in the national league and other domestic tournaments for some time now. But we haven't done well abroad, especially in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup,” he says. “The next target for me is to put up a good show in the AFC meet.” (Dempo is the only Indian club to have reached the semifinals of a continental tournament in 2008.)

But the advanced age of few of his star campaigners like Climax Lawrence (midfielder), Mahesh Gawli (defender) and the departure of his main goal-scorer Ranti Martins to Kolkata's Parayag United might hamper his plans. But Colaco refuses to budge down and comes out with an apt answer.

“My philosophy stays. We don't rely on one single individual. All of them are exceptional players but we have a legacy of replacement in place. Football is not an individual game,” Colaco says. “We have talented youngsters in Romeo Fernandes (midfielder), Shallum Pires (defender) and they will make the step up.”

Colaco, who had a brief stint as the national team coach last year, might be the ideal choice for a long term role. But at present he is not too keen. “I wanted a five-year contract to coach the national team but they wanted to test my coaching abilities first,” he says. “I have a permanent job at Dempo and I love my job. I am happy that I have been able to serve my club well for so many years,”