Bengaluru FC's Naushad Moosa: Reserve team role helped me a lot

ISL 2021: Naushad Moosa talks about the challenges of taking over as interim head coach of Bengaluru FC, how the pressure of the task kept him up for nights and how he saw the season pan out from the touchline.

“Being the head coach for these games has helped me understand what is the level needed for the ISL,” says Naushad Moosa.   -  Special Arrangement

Naushad Moosa went to bed one night as the assistant coach of Bengaluru FC and woke up the next morning as the interim head coach.

Bengaluru, the most successful Indian club in the last decade, was enduring one of its worst slumps in form and slipped to three successive losses — a first since its arrival in the Indian Super League (ISL). Carles Cuadrat, who had led Bengaluru to the ISL title in 2018, was let go of and Moosa was handed the reigns.

It’s not like Moosa was a new face in the club — he had been at the helm of the reserve side for almost four years. But then came the transition from handling the future stars of Indian football to coaching the current generation, including the national team skipper Sunil Chhetri.

In a candid chat with Sportstar after Bengaluru’s 4-2 win over Mumbai City, Moosa talks about the challenges of taking over the main team, how the pressure of the task kept him up for nights and how he saw the season pan out from the touchline.

How difficult was the transition for you and how did the players react to your appointment as interim head coach?

To tell you the truth, I was a bit nervous in the beginning. (The transition) was not all that easy because I went from coaching a reserve squad where you have all the young boys who are looking up to you, and then you have people like Sunil, Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) and then foreigners like Dimas (Delgado) and Erik (Paartalu) in the senior team. The players made it easy for me. I met them all personally and they just made me feel comfortable and told me not to worry and that they would give their best no matter what. That was really nice of them and helped me ease into the role.

How did you change your role when you took charge of the senior team?

What’s very important when you are coaching senior players is how well you’re organising the training sessions, how well you’re managing the sessions and how much you control the match situations. They were never under me; I was always an assistant and a friend to them. Because that was my job — to see what is happening in their lives and be more friendly with them. But now, it is a different role and I can’t do the same.

When they saw things were going well, that’s when they started having confidence in me. They got more confidence in me after the win over Mumbai City FC. It’s important when you’re dealing with a player... You need to give them that space and the confidence for them to trust you as a coach. That has worked in my favour so far.

Tell us a little about how this season has been for Sunil Chhetri. We’ve often seen him absolutely spent and frustrated at the full-time whistle.

If you see his last few games, after every match he will just come and say sorry. And you must have seen the work he is putting in now. The only thing is I had to control him because of what was happening... It was not only him, but even the other senior players who have been with us for three to four years have not been in such a situation. Nobody has gone through this situation in the last seven years. So that was really frustrating for them, which you could see in Sunil as well. Given that all the junior players look up to him, we told him that it would be nice if he can be calm and just enjoy and not worry about the points table.

Sunil Chhetri

Bengaluru FC's Sunil Chhetri in action during his side's final ISL game of the season. - ISL/Sportzpics

 

He’s ageing as well and so for sure he doesn’t want to give up. He’s a player who I think can play four more years. The amount of discipline and the hard work he puts in...you have junior players who get injured, but then you have one Sunil who’s never injured. Even if he does pick up an injury, he’s always taking care of himself and recovers quickly. That’s the amount of discipline and that’s why he’s the best in the country now.

You’ve always advocated giving youngsters game time and have worked on that since taking over as interim head coach. But the decision to employ youngsters also attracts criticism as they may lack the experience in clutch situations. How do you tackle that?

You learn only from making mistakes. I believe that you don’t learn much from doing good things. If you see Parag (Srivas), most of the season he was playing as a left-back and sometimes as a right-back. Most teams were trying to attack from the left when he played as a left-back, thinking that he is a weak link. But we never stopped trusting him. I kept giving him the opportunity. That is very important. We need to keep trusting them. If you give up on the juniors, then the player is gone. Now, we have a player in Parag who can perform. He was not even in the first twenty earlier, but now he is straight in the first eleven.

The other junior players also have hope now that their time will come. I keep talking to them and tell them how important they are for the team in the future.

Being the head coach for these games has helped me understand what is the level really needed for the ISL. When I was with the reserve team, I was just like, they are very good players, they can perform. But now, when I became the head coach here, I got to know what exactly is needed. This will help me give them the feedback they need and assess what more we can do. Maybe next season, I will call them early and work on the weaknesses.

Do you believe Indians can be head coaches in the ISL?

It’s very important that we start somewhere. When I got this opportunity at Bengaluru FC, I was not only representing myself as an Indian coach, but I was representing the whole coaches’ fraternity as I’m also associated with the All India Football Coaches Association.

It was also there at the back of my mind that if I or Khalid (Jamil, interim head coach at NorthEast United FC) do well, it will reflect on all other Indian coaches and will give them that confidence. I feel we do have good Indian coaches like Clifford Miranda (FC Goa), Thangboi Singto (Hyderabad FC) and Steven Dias (Odisha FC).

The main thing is how Bengaluru FC gave me that opportunity to be the head coach for the reserve team as well and that helped me a lot. All the Indian coaches who are the assistants to the foreigners should get that opportunity to coach maybe the B team as well. That would help.