‘I am no magician’

GEARING UP FOR THE SHOW. FC Goa coach Zico (second from right) and marquee player Robert Pires (right) with the co-owner of the franchise, India cricketer Virat Kohli (extreme left) and actor Varun Dhawan, during a press conference in Mumbai.-PTI GEARING UP FOR THE SHOW. FC Goa coach Zico (second from right) and marquee player Robert Pires (right) with the co-owner of the franchise, India cricketer Virat Kohli (extreme left) and actor Varun Dhawan, during a press conference in Mumbai.

Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico, has just taken charge of FC Goa. The legendary Brazilian is cautious about his team’s chances in the Indian Super League. “Give me some time. I cannot make them better overnight. I am here to help,” he says. By Nandakumar Marar.

Zico’s assignment with FC Goa in the Indian Super League follows his coaching stints with Al Gharafa (Qatar; 2013-14), Iraq (2011-12), Olympiakos (Greece; 2009-10), CSKA Moscow (2009), Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan; 2008), Fenerbahce (Turkey; 2006-08), Japan (2002-06), CFZ (Brazil; 2000–02) and Kashima Antlers in Japan’s J-League (1999). The expectations are high in Goa, particularly because of his success as the manager of the Japanese national team, which won the title at the 2004 Asian Championships in Beijing. The Brazilian remained in charge of the Japanese team until the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

One of those rare football legends to make a successful transition from a player to a professional coach, Zico’s stints with clubs across continents underline his ability to adapt to different cultures, a quality that will stand him in good stead in his latest role as the coach of FC Goa.

The owners of FC Goa were talking about winning the inaugural Indian Super League during the official team kit launch in Mumbai. However, reality on the ground is different. The franchise had signed its players, both domestic and foreign, in draft picks even before the Brazilian had come on board. So working with players not chosen by him could be daunting for Zico.

However, to Zico’s advantage will be the cohesion between FC Goa’s domestic players, who represent Dempo SC in the I-League. And the quality of the foreign players recruited by the franchise is impressive too, with winger Robert Pires (1998 World Cup winner’s medal and Arsenal FC star) leading the list.

Dempo’s chief coach Arthur Papas has been named Zico’s deputy at FC Goa.

“I am no magician,” said Zico about his squad. “Give me some time. I cannot make them better overnight. I am here to help.”

Excerpts from a chat with the legend:

Question: After the 2014 World Cup, do kids in Brazil have football idols to emulate, players to inspire them?

Answer: Only Neymar.

He seems to be feeling the burden of responsibility since returning from back injury. Brazil is desperate to get back to winning ways. What is your view?

It is normal to be playing under pressure, especially when you reach the top level. Pressure will always be there, it is part of the game. Neymar knows that and is aware of the national team’s dependence on his performance. There is also a problem in the Brazilian Championship of getting centre-forwards. At the moment, Bolivians are in demand. (The top scorer in the 2014 Brazilian League, Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A, is Cruzeiro’s Marcelo Martins, a Bolivian international.)

Indian Super League is the first competition where so many top foreigners will be playing in India at the same time. They are coming here for the money, and being professionals, they will quickly get accustomed to Indian conditions. Do you think they can be approached for representing the nation in future?

I do not know what the rule here is about accepting players from other countries. I do not know too much about the foreigners who have come here (to represent different teams in the ISL), so I cannot talk about their ability.

Defender Alex (Alessandro Santos), born in Brazil, played for Japan in the 2006 World Cup after becoming a naturalised Japanese citizen. You were the coach then. Should the Indian federation (AIFF) think on those lines if any of these international stars are willing to play for India?

When I took charge, Alex was already a naturalised Japanese player. He had gone there as a student at the age of 16 and got the Japanese citizenship. All he had to do was marry a Japanese. The process of getting citizenship depends on the prevailing laws and rules of each country. It differs from place to place. In Qatar, players of different nationalities are invited by the rulers. Brazilians, Uruguayans, Africans all come to play. I do not know the citizenship rules applicable in India.

The foreign players in the ISL represent different playing styles. Brazil has a distinctive style that is natural and graceful. From your experience with various countries and clubs, which style suits Indians?

Brazil got all this due to the diverse cultures that have gone into the making of teams. They are profiting from all those different cultures. There is diversity in India too, so the need is to adapt. Whichever style is best and winning, Indian players should adopt that style. Since this League has attracted a lot of players from different countries, I think India has much to learn from all these top players.

In your interactions with the FC Goa players, what do you stress on?

Professionalism is the first thing. After that the Indian players need to learn how to use their physical attributes. Finally, nutrition is very important and so is rest.

Every nation has one sport that dominates everything else. In India, it is cricket. Will ISL help Indian football become the most followed sport here?

The game has to go through a process before it becomes successful here. There is space for every sport in all parts of the world. Baseball was big in Japan while I was playing in the J-League. Football has grown there, but it does not mean that the following for baseball has gone down. Like Japan, India is a very big country. There can be many people playing cricket, and many people following football as well.