x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

India coach Savio Medeira has his eye on the basics

He believes improving infrastructure, giving indigenous coaches more opportunities and expanding the national league will help football grow in India, writes Awad Mustafa.

The India national team train in Dubai for the upcoming AFC Challenge Cup. Savio Medeira, their head coach, has no doubt there is plenty of talent in the country but finds infrastructure lacking.
The India national team train in Dubai for the upcoming AFC Challenge Cup. Savio Medeira, their head coach, has no doubt there is plenty of talent in the country but finds infrastructure lacking.

India is a cricket-mad country where the national sport is hockey. Maybe it is not surprising, then, that its football team is ranked 154th in the world.

For that to change, says the coach of the national team, a complete and fundamental overhaul is required.

"Youth development, coaching education and proper infrastructure development is needed in India for it to reach the global standard and allow the nation to compete regionally," said Savio Medeira, who has been the head coach of the national team since October.

"We have a lot of talent and commitment to the game, but we lack the basics to gain popular support."

India have been successful in South Asia, winning six of the nine South Asia Football Federation Cups since 1993. But they have not had much luck in continental competitions since finishing second in the 1964 Asian Cup.

The national professional league - the I-League, with 14 teams in the first division and 21 in the second – suffers from poor attendance and low television ratings, with a few exceptions.

In the Kolkata derby in October, more than 90,000 fans filled the Salt Lake City stadium to watch East Bengal play bitter rivals Mohan Bagan.

More evidence of a growing fan base is showing. The Pepsi soft drinks company launched its first football advertisement campaign in the country last Wednesday.

The advert features the Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor arguing with a young footballer, telling him to play cricket instead.

Kapoor approaches a vending machine and inserts a coin but the machine fails.

The young player, dressed in a "Drogba 11" T-shirt, kicks the ball against the machine and it works. Kapoor is left standing with the football as the line "Change the Game" appears on the screen.

There is also hope, in some quarters, that the introduction of the Premier League Soccer (PLS) – styled after cricket's India Premier League (IPL) – will give a boost to the game's popularity in the world's second-most populated country.

The league, which has six teams in the state of East Bengal, has attracted international stars such as Robert Pires of France, Hernan Crespo of Argentina and the Italian 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro.

But others, like Medeira, believe the benefits of the league will be short-lived.

"The PLS will give India a lot of international mileage," he said, "but unfortunately it will not add any thing technically to the sport in the country.

"The league will last only a few weeks so in the long run it will not be beneficial."

More important, he believes, is the need for a strong youth programme.

The All India Football Federation has set up four academies across the country to help develop young talent, he said, and that is where the future of India football lies.

The academies are in Bangalore, Calcutta, Mumbai and New Delhi and accept children age 14 and older. "This is one step in the right direction," Medeira said. "Over the next few years lower age groups will be introduced."

Scott O'Donell, an Australian, will be in charge of the academies. The 44-year-old former A-league defender and Cambodia manager is also a former director of coaching education for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). He is teamed with the Dutch football expert Robert Baan, who was appointed last year as the technical director of football.

Medeira, a 46-year-old Goan born in the city of Margao, played at Salgaocar between 1983 and 2000.

In 2001 he was appointed as the head coach of the club. He has been with the national side since 2008 as an assistant coach and took over the reins as head coach last autumn.

Among his other goals for the country's football future:

- Improve the infrastructure. "We only have two AFC approved stadiums with a full seating capacity in the whole country, one in Pune and another in Chennai," he said.

Football stadiums in India are poorly rated because of the lack of good lighting, actual seats in the stands and bad pitch conditions, he said. "The AFC is closely watching football in India and the majority of stadiums are cricket stadiums," he said.

- Better opportunities for coaches to develop. "We have many good coaches but the problem is that we have no refresher courses," he said.

"I have asked the federation to get coaching instructors and consultants to help develop the local coaches and expand their knowledge. In India you attain your licences from the Asian Football Confederation but it stops at that."

Medeira said he believes foreign coaches are beneficial to Indian football because they bring more experience, but Indian coaches need to find other ways to develop as well.

"India is a vast country. For a foreign coach to understand the different cultures and attitudes it takes time and no foreign coach would be able to deliver immediate results," he said. "That's why we need Indian coaches to be more trained."

- Expand the I-League. "The game has to be spread further across the country," he said. "The I-League currently has teams only from Mumbai, New Delhi, East Bengal, Calcutta and another team from the north, we need the game expanded to all the states."