‘We will play to our strengths'

“Performance at the club level will be paramount for me — you perform well, you get into the team. There are no shortcuts (to get) into my team,” says Armando Colaco, the head coach of the Indian team. By Ayon Sengupta.

Armando Colaco wants to break free of Englishman Bob Houghton's long-ball style of play as he looks to settle in as the new man at the helm of Indian football. “I would like my boys to keep possession and build up the game from their own half,” he says.

“We will play to our strengths and not copy the English style — it doesn't suit our players. But that doesn't mean we will try to emulate Barcelona. No team in the world can do that, and we, of all people, can't dream of such wonders.”

Calling the current period of Indian football as a “transitional” one, Colaco says, “I should be given time to work out a pattern. It's not easy for the National side to change its style after playing in one direction for six long years. I don't want to pressurise myself or the team to achieve immediate success. I would give it time to get accustomed to my style and thinking.”

A pragmatic coach who has been rewarded for years of consistent service with one of India's most successful clubs, Dempo, Colaco wants to build a core team with young players who have the hunger for success and the time on their side to learn. Therefore, one of his first calls after taking charge of the Indian team was to send senior pros like Bhaichung Bhutia and Rennedy Singh on a sabbatical.

“I haven't axed any player. But I want to build a side for the future and a few of the players in Houghton's side were past their time. But all said and done, their collective experience is invaluable and if the need arises I won't hesitate to recall them,” he says, trying to brush aside the furore his decision has caused.

“Performance at the club level will be paramount for me — you perform well, you get into the team. There are no shortcuts (to get) into my team.”

Reiterating his stand, Colaco has picked players such as East Bengal's Mehtab Hussain and Chirag United's Lalkamal Bhowmick along with Raju Gaekawad and Jewel Rana of Indian Arrows, who despite their strong performances in the I-League didn't make it to the various sides during Houghton's regime.

Chief coach Armando Colaco has a word with his players at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi. The team is scheduled to play its World Cup qualifier against the UAE on July 23.-

“The boys from Indian Arrows will form the nucleus of the future National squad. I have analysed each and every player and decided on my squad,” says Colaco, who was revered as a father figure at Dempo and also feared at the same time for being a strict disciplinarian.

“I didn't give importance to big names or influential clubs while selecting the squad. I have tried picking the best possible talent for every position. My long experience in the I-League has helped me because I have in-depth knowledge of the capabilities and weaknesses of each boy. I want the players to listen to me. But I will also listen to them. We should be like a family and they are my boys and that's the kind of camaraderie I had always enjoyed in Dempo. That was the key to our success and I want to bring the same culture to the Indian side.”

His predecessor Houghton was often criticised for being high-handed and showing no interest in watching the I-League games. The Englishman never stayed with the players in the team hotel and was known to be close only to a select group of players.

Not the one to mince words, Colaco is very critical of the All-India Football Federation's new directive that binds the National players to a total of 40 games for their clubs. “I can understand if you are trying to protect senior players like Bhutia, Rennedy, Sunil Chettri or (Mahesh) Gawli under this rule. But youngsters like Raju or Jeje Lalpekhlua needs to play as many competitive games as possible to sharpen their skills,” he says.

“I understand the Federation's policy of allowing only junior players to play in the State league. This will help us build a strong reserve pool. But without any star value why would the crowd come and see East Bengal or Mohun Bagan. In Goa we are effectively following a system for the last couple of seasons where only a handful of big names play in the local league. I am sure it can be successful in Bengal or any other part of the country too.”

Blaming both the AIFF and the clubs for the current rot in Indian football, the head coach says, “In India you don't have the concept of working in unison. My predecessor never consulted us (I-League coaches) for team selection or for any other matter. Even the AIFF hardly has any regard for club coaches. Everyone is free to take a direction of their own. The clubs also need to look for avenues to make money. There should be an effort from their side to venture into merchandising, brand-building and community-building activities.”

Colaco also talks of the difficulties faced by the clubs that have forced old institutions like the Mahindra United and JCT to shut shop. “Our player pool is shrinking every day. The clubs are not interested in investing in junior programmes; so is the Federation. Yet we are increasing the number of teams in the I-League so often. The few available players are unfairly asking for hefty sums and getting away with it,” he says.

“Something needs to be done immediately to address this problem. Otherwise there's always the chance of more clubs following suit and the whole system collapsing. The clubs and the AIFF should bury their hatchet and work together to find the quickest and best possible solution to put football development in the country back on track.”

For now, Colaco will be in charge of the Indian team for a period of four months. “I want to continue working for Dempo as the club is a little reluctant to let me go. So till I reach an understanding with the club and the AIFF in this regard I don't want to commit myself for any long term assignment,” he says.