‘Focus is on having fun’

The Scottish international, Brian McClair is positive about Indian football. “There is so much potential in this country and hopefully we will be able to help nurture new talent,” he says. By S. R. Suryanarayan.

Brian McClair has a special place at the Manchester United FC. Born in Scotland, McClair, who also played for Motherwell and Celtic, was among the first big signings by Sir Alex Ferguson in 1987. He had a dream debut, scoring 24 goals to enter the club’s record book as the first player after George Best in 1968 to net over 20 goals in the English Premiership.

McClair, however, had to wait until 1993 to see Manchester United win the Premiership title and then go on to make it a double by lifting the FA Cup with a win over Chelsea. He tasted another double with Manchester United three seasons later.

McClair made 470 appearances for Manchester United and scored 127 goals. He turned out for Scotland in 30 matches and though he rose to win the Scottish Player of the Year award, it was his exploits at Old Trafford that put him on a high pedestal in the sport. He is now the Youth Academy Director of United.

McClair, 44, was in Goa recently as part of the expert team from the Academy for the ‘Kick Off’ project, an initiative of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Bharti Airtel, Goa Football Association, Manchester United Soccer School (MUSS) and IMG. The programme is to identify talent among school children and prepare a development programme.

The excerpts of the interview he gave to Sportstar via e-mail:

Question: We have heard of Manchester United Soccer Schools and their reputation in the field of development of players at the junior level. Could you throw some light on this?

Answer: Manchester United Soccer Schools have developed their approach based on the philosophy of the Club. Ever since the days of Sir Matt Busby Manchester United has placed a great emphasis on the need to develop young talent. The Manchester United Academy has produced some great players over the years, names like David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Gigs and the Neville brothers. Manchester United Soccer Schools take the values, principles and training methods from the Academy and apply them in coaching sessions around the world.

What age group players are targeted for the ‘Kick Off’ initiative in Goa? Ideally, at what age should a boy be picked for football training?

We are working with school children between the ages of 10 and 16. We have had great support from the education authorities here (in Goa) who have helped make children aware of this great opportunity. Some children start really early in football — as soon as they can kick a ball.

How different is this training from the conventional programmes? What is its focus?

Our main focus is on having fun. The first stages of this are going to be assessment of the kids’ skills rather than coaching. When we actually get to coach kids they learn a lot not just about football but also life skills. It can really help build confidence.

Perhaps by now you must have had a glimpse of the talents in Goa. How would you compare them with their counterparts in England?

I have visited a few schools over the past week and there is clearly great passion for soccer in this part of the world. There are certainly reasons to believe that we will find some gifted kids here who would benefit from further training.

Do you believe structured training is the essence of youth development programmes? What does the future hold for football?

Oh absolutely, it is critically important and all the major clubs realise that it is something they need to provide. I am positive about the future. Recent rule changes by FIFA have made the sport more attacking and conducive for scoring more goals. Anything that makes the sport more entertaining is good. I also feel quite positive about football in India after my trip here. There is so much potential in this country and hopefully we will be able to help nurture new talent.

* * * THE PROJECT KICKS OFF

After two weeks of assessing the skills, the special team from the Manchester United Soccer Schools selected 12 school children from over 4500 who had assembled for the ‘Kick Off’ project in Margao. The selected children will travel to the UK. The children were judged on a variety of skills including ball control, awareness, speed and technical skill.

Manchester United’s Director of International Development, Dale Hobson, said: “We have been really impressed by the ability shown by these kids. They’ve worked very hard out there under a lot of pressure. We will be taking the 12 children to Manchester next July. There is no question of the passion for football here in Goa. If anyone ever doubted India had talent they can’t doubt it now.”

A team of sports scientists from the UK, led by Dr. Nick Webborn from The University of Brighton, looked at the diet, height and weight of the children to establish their potential for development in football at the highest level.