India needs ‘Lakshya’

Wim Koevermans… “ stronger competition in the I-League is needed.”-

“We have to fix targets and start working. That is why I believe in the tagline ‘Just Do It’,” says India’s chief coach Wim Koevermans. By Nandakumar Marar.

Wim Koevermans was in Panjim for GIFT 2013, a conference organised by the Goa Football Development Council (GFDC) on March 15 and 16. The India coach spent the first day of the football conference listening to speakers from across the world and India who lectured on various issues, including ambitious topics such as the possibility of India exporting football talent. The following day, the Dutchman met the coaches and owners of the I-League clubs. The Technical Director of Indian football, Robert Baan of the Netherlands was also present.

Koevermans’ impatience with Indian football for its slow decision-making and his eagerness to focus on critical aspects were evident during the conference in which he was one of the panellists. The specific reference was to the Technical Director of Indian football, Robert Baan’s blueprint for the development of the game in the country, titled ‘Lakshya’. The two Dutchmen spent time convincing the I-League coaches and owners from western region about the relationship between I-League standards and the National team’s performance.

India under Koevermans moved up 24 places in FIFA’s world rankings. The former central defender, who was a member of the Netherlands team that won the 1988 European Championship, signed a two-year contract with the AIFF in 2012.

“That India is ranked 143 is great, but we may drop. Consistency is not there with regard to climbing the stairs to reach a higher level. Don’t be surprised if our ranking drops. We have to make sure we keep climbing,” said Koevermans, on the sidelines of the GFDC’s conference.

On the benefits of executing Robert Baan’s master plan: The intentions are okay; action is more important. We have a Technical Director who wrote this master plan for Indian football. Many countries have such master plans. It is not about re-inventing the wheel, it is only paper, in book form, lying on the table. If nobody picks it up and makes it work, nothing will happen. The document has all the ingredients for football development, starting now. It will take years to develop, but you will see the steps for the road ahead. We have to fix targets and start working. That is why I believe in the tagline ‘Just Do It’.

On the futility of expecting Indians to succeed in playing for clubs abroad: We should bother about how to develop football in India rather than worry about our players trying to get into big clubs. If our development is planned well at every level, then logically, automatically we will have players in outside competitions. Indians getting into foreign clubs cannot be set as a target. The focus should be on football development here. And as a logical effect, openings for Indians will happen.

On having a more competitive I-League: Stronger competition in the I-League is needed. A lot of players earn a lot of money here in India, so they see no reason to go outside. With better competition in India, things will change and then other countries will be interested in our players. Ultimately, that will be good for the national team because the experience of playing outside will help. The Dutch national team is mainly composed of players based in foreign leagues. It has always been the case; about 90 per cent of Holland’s national team players compete elsewhere, in Italy, England and Germany.

On making clubs accept and learn the way to play the passing game: I have my ideas about the national team. We started playing in a certain style (combining and passing along the ground in contrast to the long-ball tactics earlier). For some players, it is not the style they play at their clubs, but once they are together with the Indian team, I can see that the style of play fits the players. We are trying to play in a way what everybody in the world is following.

On the feedback from the I-League clubs regarding falling in step with the national team’s style of play:

Some clubs try to do it. It is not just my responsibility, it is a shared responsibility to make sure that we build our I-League and develop quality players and coaches. I will be involved in the Pro Licence course, sometime in May. It will be organised in such a way that Indian coaches coming for the course, especially from the I-League clubs, will go through the Pro Licence and gain access to latest coaching techniques.

On the quality of foreign players contracted to the I-League clubs: I think the foreigners playing in India should be better than the talent we have so that we can learn from them. That will be my idea as a coach of a club and should be the rule when signing foreigners for the I-League. I still see a lot of Indian boys in teams who are good, but are also young. Coaches want to win games and normally with youngsters, but it doesn’t happen fast. You need a good mix. Young players need (to play more) games to develop into match-winners, so it is something to be discussed with the coaches.

On players of Indian origin representing the country in international events, like Izumi Arata playing the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers: When I took over as India’s coach, I got a lot of enquiries from agents about Indian-born players in different countries. They all wanted to know if playing for India was possible. I was told that it was not possible for players without an Indian passport. So, my first question was whether they had an Indian passport. Arata managed to play after getting an Indian passport. There must be a policy in India that makes it easier for people to get a passport so that we can have top sportspersons into the system. That is not my call. I am aware there are enough players of Indian origin wanting to play (for India).