The 2020-21 Indian football season is set to begin with the I-League Qualifier 2020 simultaneously in Kolkata and Kalyani which will feature five teams facing off against each other to determine who gets a direct entry into the 2020-21 edition of the I-League. Delhi-based Garhwal FC are among the contenders and in a free-wheeling interview, Head Coach Vikas Rawat talks about the team’s preparation, assessment of their opponents, their style of play, and much more.
As we come closer to the start of the tournament, what are your thoughts?
There is a lot of hope. We are very optimistic. It was in 2014 that we last played in the Second Division League but couldn’t qualify. This time around, hopefully, we can make it through. Our preparations are on-track and all plans are in place. We are a community club from Delhi and one of our motives is to represent our home state at the National level and bring Delhi on the footballing map in India.
On behalf of my team, I would like to convey my thanks to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for the professional manner in which they have set-up and planned this tournament during such challenging circumstances. Everyone at the club is hopeful that we will perform well. There are no second thoughts on our minds and we’re eagerly waiting for the matches to start.
What would it mean for you and the team to make the step up to the I-League?
I would be the happiest man on earth if we qualify! It will be a major achievement. We are putting in a lot of effort. We were the champions of Delhi and earned the chance to play in the Second Division League.
But now I feel it’s the time to take the next step and reach the National level and do well against clubs from all over India. We hope we can be an example for other teams and we will give it our all in the Qualifiers in October. If we can qualify for the I-League, it will be a fairy tale.
You will be up against four strong teams for that one coveted spot. How do you rate the opposing sides in the qualifiers?
Personally I do not read too much into the opposition — as in, I don’t look at their names or the history of the clubs. All the teams are our competitors — they are the ones standing between us and first place. When it comes to the pitch, all teams are equal and we have to see things for what they are. We will neither underestimate any team nor shall we overestimate.
The same attitude is drilled into the players. I have worked with this set of youngsters for the last 7-8 years and I have full trust in them. We have to be strong physically and mentally, and that is what we are working on in training. No matter who the team is in front of us, our main target is to beat them on the day — that is the mindset of the entire squad.
With many clubs signing so many reinforcements, what have your recruitment plans been like?
Our key philosophy is to promote the youngsters from our set-up and we want to give them the platform to play and perform. Our core team will be the same that played for us at the start of last season’s Hero Second Division League. No major signings in-store and if we do sign any players, it will be fresh, young faces.
We will two foreigners in our ranks — Bala (Alhassan) and Victor (Philip) — who were part of the Second Division League campaign. Both are prolific players and I am sure they will justify their place. Unfortunately, our Asian signing (Kazumasa Nomura) went home when the pandemic began and cannot be part of our team for the Qualifiers.
What kind of football can fans expect from Garhwal FC?
All the players have a good game sense. Our basic philosophy is building up from the back and keep the ball on the ground. If we need to change, we can switch. But the basic system remains the same. Focus on short passes, more 1-v-1s, and we believe in dribbles and cutbacks more than crossing.
COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of our daily lives. What steps did your team take to ensure that you return to training in the safest and best possible way?
When the players returned to our residential facility all of them underwent tests. There was a mandatory quarantine period of five days, irrespective of the result of the report. Initially, we did not start competitive training and we would do physical workouts while maintaining an adequate amount of distance.
Apart from these, we would sanitize all the rooms, common areas and even the ground on a daily basis and followed all the precautions as per the norms issued by the government.
Now, we have started our practical training and our final squad is almost finalized as well. We are now doing the final round of testing mandated by the AIFF before departure and are set to reach Kolkata for the tournament on the reporting date. We are all very excited for the matches to begin!