Relying on the Dutch for deliverance

It is natural for any team to adopt the best possible style depending on the ability of the players. In international football teams keep the ball very well. That's the way forward. It increases the chances of winning. It is fun to keep the ball. -- Wim K Oevermans-PTI

“It’s an interesting and challenging task to develop Indian football and see it moves up in the FIFA rankings,” says Wim Koevermans on taking charge as the coach of the Indian team. By Vijay Lokapally.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is looking in the direction of the Dutch for success. Following the appointment of Rob Baan as the Technical Director, Wim Koevermans has been selected as the new coach of the Indian team. Both hail from Holland, and they are expected to work wonders with Indian football.

Koevermans was the High Performance Director with Ireland before landing this job. He begins his assignment with the Nehru Cup, which commences on August 23. The tournament will give an indication of Koevermans’ tactical approach.

“It’s a great honour and privilege, and I am looking forward to the job. It’s an interesting and challenging task to develop Indian football and see it moves up in the FIFA rankings,” the Dutch announced during his first interaction with the Indian media.

Baan had laid out his plans a few months ago when he said, “My primary role is to write a master plan and a curriculum for the National Youth Development.”

Baan’s job also included giving inputs for setting up the Elite Academy and the Regional Academies all over the country.

Indian football has always promised but rarely delivered. Former India coach Bob Houghton had to battle with the authorities to set up the infrastructure to assist in the development of the game at the junior level. It has been a constant refrain of coaches in various disciplines that India possesses the talent but not the means to nurture it.

Football icon Bhaichung Bhutia had always advocated appointment of a foreign coach and he prospered under the guidance of Houghton. “He is the best coach I’ve played under,” Bhutia would say. Houghton’s departure was seen as a huge setback because it, once again, underlined the failure of the authorities to provide the right climate for the players and the support staff to function.

Houghton did his best to solve the federation versus clubs tussle. The new coach too will face this challenge. “Clubs own the players. I will meet the officials and convince them that it is good for them if their players get to play international football,” assured Koevermans. A lot would depend on how he manages to keep the clubs happy.

Koevermans has been signed up for two years. The time could well turn out to be the most significant one for Indian football. He is the ninth foreign coach — after Harry Wright, Milovan Ciric, Bob Bootland, Jozsef Gelei, Jiri Pesek, Rustam Akromov, Stephen Constantine and Bob Houghton — to be associated with the Indian team.

Ciric was considered one of the finest coaches in Europe. Akromov and Gelei, who was Hungary’s goalkeeper in the 1966 World Cup, were also highly rated as managers. Football experts in the country believe that these foreign coaches were far better than their Indian counterparts, but the system and lack of official support did not offer them the ideal conditions to function.

Players’ Ally… former India coach Bob Houghton speaks to his players during the Nehru Cup. Houghton refused to make any compromises and backed his players strongly.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Houghton refused to make any compromises and backed his players strongly. While preparing for the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, Houghton led his team out of the training ground and refused to entertain the AIFF officials. He termed it a “sad state of affairs” and in later years described it as nothing short of a scandal.

The stop-gap arrangement with Armando Colaco and Savio Medeira did not reflect well on the ways of the AIFF which was desperate to get a foreign coach. The arrival of Koevermans raises hopes.

“We would start with a certain style that would go with the international football standards. It is natural for any team to adopt the best possible style depending on the ability of the players. In international football, teams keep the ball very well. That’s the way forward. It increases the chances of winning. It is fun to keep the ball,” Koevermans said.

The Dutchman’s words show that he is in no hurry.

It is understandable that at some point Koevermans would introduce his style of play and tactics. Houghton was pragmatic. He did not look to make changes overnight and was quick to understand the need to make the most of what was available. He was willing to back Bhutia even though the latter was past his prime. Houghton placed more faith in his players than the authorities.

The AIFF’s challenge now is in providing Koevermans the right facilities and the atmosphere to work in. It is not that the foreign coaches had failed Indian football in the past. It is widely believed that it was the football system in the country that let them down. Without adequate preparation time and poor grounds it was always going to be tough for the coach and the team.

A lot depends on how Koevermans tackles his first assignment. “I like pressure. It is healthy and helps to perform better. It is part of the job,” he announced on his arrival.

Indian football is relying on this 51-year-old Dutch for deliverance.