‘It’s not the job of AIFF to run academies’

Scott O'Donell...“The States must have their own youth development and grassroots programmes.”-

“Unlike the grassroots programme, you need good facilities to run the youth development programme,” says Scott O’Donell, the AIFF Academy Instructor, to G. Viswanath.

Having played in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia and coached the Cambodian national team, Scott O’Donell told goal.com two years ago that he would explore opportunities in other Asian countries. A top rung FIFA licence holder in coaching, the 45-year-old from Sydney has accepted FIFA’s offer to work in India as an AIFF Academy Instructor. He is happy that close to 1200 boys turned up for the trials and selection in Kolkata, but points out that the States and the I-League Clubs should establish uniform academy programmes for the larger benefit of Indian football.

Sportstar caught up with the Australian at the Cooperage in Mumbai on a Sunday morning when he was actually supervising a coaching education programme. “It’s a big job and it takes many years to hone the talent at a youth development programme, but a country doesn’t require six-footers to make a successful football team. The Spanish team is not full of six-footers,” he says.

Excerpts:

On becoming a coach: I was a teacher when I was playing for Parramatta in Australia. I was teaching Economics and Business Studies in a junior college. So I used to work during the day and train at night. It was towards the end of my playing career in Singapore that I decided to take up coaching.

On the work for AIFF: I am initially here (in India) for two years, my contract is until the end of 2013. I am basically here on behalf of FIFA to set up the AIFF academies. But recently, I was also appointed the Director of the AIFF Coaches Education Programme. So, I am also coaching the coaches of academies. I am also helping them to select players for the academy and generally overseeing everything for the setting up of the Elite Academy next year.

On his playing and coaching experience: I have played in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and coached in Cambodia. It’s a different challenge in each country. For example, in Cambodia, there is no youth development, no infrastructure. All matches are played in the same stadium. The national team does not get adequate support; so there is battle all the time.

In India, there has been a national youth development programme under Colm Joseph Toal for the last five years. The players come to the camp, train and play. So India is a step ahead of Cambodia. Having said that, India still has a long way to go. India is such a big country.

On setting up the academies: The States must have their own youth development and grassroots programmes to get a bigger base of players. There are football-playing States or cities like Goa, Kolkata and Mumbai while some are not. One must have all the States working on a similar programme, and it is here that the AIFF Technical Director, Rob Baan, has a master plan.

Honestly, it should not be the job of the AIFF to run the academies; it’s the job of the I-League clubs and the States. Now the AIFF is setting up the academies and, hopefully, this would set a good example for the clubs and the States to follow. We will start with four — in Mumbai (Father Agnel School, Navi Mumbai), Kolkata (Pailan Arrows), Goa and Delhi/NCR. Hopefully, we will have four more in 2013 apart from two Elite academies and that will make it 10 in all. I would like all private parties also to follow the same youth programme.

The youth development programme in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia: In Australia, on a Saturday morning, one will find kids playing in football fields from 8 am to 5 pm. Earlier, Australia had its own programme with the States doing their own things. Only in the last two years, Australia has been following a uniform programme.

Every school in Singapore has a football pitch, or is getting an artificial pitch. I have lived there for 10 years, and at a place where I played you will find 10 football pitches within a five-kilometre radius. Singapore is a wealthy country and it has the money to spend. Given its limited population, it is easy to manage. Malaysia does not have too many artificial pitches, but it has good facilities and the league clubs have their own training programmes.

On the grassroots and youth development programmes in Mumbai: Here, you cannot play good football for three months at any venue other than the Cooperage or the Father Agnel School, where the regional academy is being run. Both are equipped with artificial fields. You need good facilities to run the youth development programme. The grassroots programme can be run on any field, but when you are running the youth development programme, wherein you have to improve the players’ technique and skills, it has to be on a proper field. So what we are trying to impress upon the regional academies is that they should ideally have a grass field and an artificial field. Look at the boys playing here (at the Cooperage), the roll of the ball is smooth and almost perfect on an artificial pitch. It is a big advantage to have an artificial field.