Luis Norton de Matos: I need to sustain my project and my ideas

Coach Luis Norton de Matos discussed his thoughts on the FIFA under-17 World Cup and the road ahead for Indian football.

Belief in the boys: “I was never afraid about the games and I was always very positive with the team,” says India’s U-17 football coach Luis Norton de Matos.   -  PTI

A couple of months after India finished its inaugural FIFA under-17 World Cup campaign, Sportstar caught up with coach Luis Norton de Matos. The Portuguese manager discussed his thoughts on the tournament and the road ahead for Indian football.

How do you look back at India’s under-17 World Cup campaign?

I had time to look at the games again and the feeling I got was that we were very close. There were fantastic results. I think if you compare our experience with the three teams, we played really well with the United States but the penalty changed the game. And in the second half, it would have been different if it was 0-0.

In theory, Colombia was stronger than the United States. But what was interesting for me was that they reacted very well. We had the possibility to score twice before Colombia scored. When we equalised, I thought, ‘Now we’re going to win the game.’ The ambience was fantastic. But it came down to experience. If we (had) made the draw with Colombia, we would have had the energy. But what I felt in the third game, Ghana was very strong. We defended well but Ghana needed to win that game.

Some journalists told me that I was very tense during the World Cup and now I seem to look more look relaxed. I was never afraid about the games and I was always very positive with the team. But the fear, as a coach, was that these teams were very strong and you know that it was difficult to beat these teams. But it’s different if you lose 0-6, 0-7 and that can happen. After each game, I thought they were tired. But they gave 200 per cent and impressed the public with their attitude. They proved they can play against more experienced teams. They can make something beautiful.

What did you take away from your preparation for the World Cup?

There are two different things. One, what I feel is that for me it was a very good surprise. The natural attitude of the players; they are very focused, they put in a big intensity during training. They never refused to work. They believed in the process.

Perhaps, the context was favourable to me when I arrived. I had a process of work which was completely different. Always work with the ball. The previous coach loved to insist on the physical (effort) without the ball. When we conceded late goals, people said that they are not physical enough. That is not the problem. Because even Messi and Ronaldo touch the ball only once in two minutes. Rest of the time, what do they do? They work the position, the balance of the game. That is intelligence. You don’t run 100 metres in football, it is not athletics (makes a whirring sound). You run 10, 20 or 50 metres, then you wait. This kind of work is like (that of) a pianist. You play piano, you don’t run around the piano. And football is with the ball. You play with the ball. With the ball, we have everything. In my training sessions, the ball is always present.

The second part, I did not participate completely in the initial process of choosing the players. The profile of some players — it was not a question of quality — left me not in panic but I was shocked. Because the three central defenders could never play as central defenders. They must be like Jeakson (raises his arm). I was lucky to play with Minerva, we took three players — Nong (Naorem), Jeakson (Singh) and Anwar (Ali). With work we could build different ideas and I’m very happy with this.

How was it working with the under-19 team for the Asian qualifiers in Saudi Arabia?

For me it was very easy to manage the under-19 side for the AFC qualifiers. It would have been more comfortable for me to not take a risk and go to Portugal and see if they want me for the I-League. When they proposed that (I manage the under-19 team), I said it was very difficult. It was not a question of the quality of the players. There are some very talented players in under-19. If they work with us for six months, it’s OK. But it was a very short time. We prepared for eight days. A group came from the (under-17) World Cup, very confident. We took 10 players and had a mixed group. It was not very easy.

Players’ attitude: They are very focused, they put in a big intensity during training. They never refused to work. They believed in the process.   -  AIFFMedia

 

Some players may have questioned why they are not in the team. Not many people understand this process. We lost 0-5 and that was a negative point. We gave fantastic answers against Yemen (a goalless draw), we could have won the game 1-0. With nine players from the under-17 team, we were confident against Turkmenistan and won 3-0. This confirmed what I was thinking. In Saudi Arabia, people said that you came here with under-17 boys for an under-19 competition. But we were organised and made four points. I’m frustrated because we deserved to beat Yemen and with two victories, we could go through.

And now (in the I-League), it will be very difficult in the beginning. But after 18 games, they will have the victory of experience. They go to tournaments afterwards and prepare to qualify for the AFC under-19 championship in two years. Then fight for a place in the under-20 World Cup. For example, Qatar’s (under-19) team has worked together for the last three years. Saudi Arabia for the last two. The players in those teams know each other very well, there is an automatism. We need to build this kind of football.

Will the coaching philosophy remain the same?

As a coach, there are two approaches. With me, only Jeakson, Anwar Ali, the other Ali (Rahim) and Nong came. And I was satisfied with the (rest of the) players. When I worked for the first two months, I did not have two players per position. After that they grew up and I adapted to them. You cannot imagine this team scoring at the World Cup with crosses, this team is very small. You must adapt. If I can choose players, I want fast wingers. I want the centre-backs to play from the back and turn fast, midfielders box-to-box. If you have this profile, you can imagine a different football in six months.

And the team will be organised. All the coaches at the World Cup said the Indian team was difficult to break. Tim Weah from United States did not touch the ball against us. They could not do anything in the last 20 metres. But even if I want to play offensive, it is very difficult if you lose the ball all the time. If they press, they lose the ball. We lost the ball thrice against Ghana, three goals. That is the risk. I prefer to wait because it is like chess. You must wait for the good action to mate. Football is the same. The problem is that some of our players had bad first touch when compared to the opposition. I understand this as a coach. When they play, it is easy. For us, it is not easy. It is work.

How would you describe your relationship with the AIFF?

I think the federation needs someone to show the correct way. There are intelligent people at the grassroots. Mr. Patel, Mr. Kushal (Das) and Abhishek (Yadav), they understood. Abhishek, because he played football, he knows very well. He said, ‘We had a camp with the national team in Portugal in 2007 or ’08. We played against fourth division teams and it was very difficult. We don’t win, we draw. And the coach did not want us to play with second division teams.’

This is the reality. He understands if you beat teams with little experience, you learn nothing. As a coach, I think risk is the only way. If you believe in something, you must take the risk. For me it is very easy to play the under-18 competition (I-League) and win but after that if we play Saudi Arabia, it will be difficult. I can guarantee you that if this process goes ahead and if these players play two seasons of I-League, I won’t be afraid to play against the big teams in Asia. Iraq, Iran et al. But now, I need to sustain my project and my ideas. The federation understands the importance of a national centre. They (the administrators) said we want success in the future. I believe in that.