Sunday , March 26 2023

Jamshedpur FC’s Noel Wilson: To change Indian football, we need to change our mindset!

I often get asked – where is Indian football heading? Why haven’t we made the FIFA World Cup yet? Is football in the country actually growing?

To grow Indian football, there isn’t just one simple answer. It isn’t just a matter of putting 11 teams together in a top-tier league and having them compete against each other. While this is great to create a culture of competition at the highest level, it isn’t enough.

We have to understand that India is a melting pot of cultures and traditions. We are unique in the way we function and we must take advantage of the various states and regions we have because the footballers that come from here also each present something unique.

We bring in foreign players and coaches who have performed at the highest level to our country hoping for a miraculous turn in fortunes, but these individuals also need time to adapt to the new place, sink their teeth in and often it’s too late before we see the best of them. So we need to try and create a culture where Indians are groomed into positions of power where they can then lead in the long run.

When it comes to coaching, it is similar. Indian coaches perhaps understand Indian players better than anyone. The biggest difference between Indian and foreign players I have seen is that we can get more out of Indian players by being slightly hard on them rather than being soft because in many cases that is the way they have grown up. That being said, it is a matter of man management on how to get the best out of anyone.

I have always said this. To change Indian football, we first need to change our mindset. Indians are going to play here and work here. Foreign coaches and players will come and go. When we invest in our culture we will always have better results in the long run.

I firmly believe that better coaching yields better results on the pitch. If there can be a way for us to bring in foreign coaches with the best backgrounds to our country and help the Indian coaches get better, then everyone benefits and football starts to grow in the country.

One of the major reasons I believe that we are still not where we need to be is because around the country we still don’t have the best coaches at grassroot level. The coaches may have the best interests of the kids at heart, but in my opinion, the kids will only learn to play at the highest level if they have A-license coaches and not D-license ones. A lot of the coaches don’t have the knowledge of football needed to help these kids develop, but A-license and above coaches won’t come down to grassroots if they aren’t compensated well enough, so it’s a bit of a catch 22 sort of situation.

I give the example of Japan. Here was a country which was far from a footballing powerhouse, but over the years they realised that their best coaches need to be at the grassroots to improve the overall culture in the country and since doing that, they have become one of Asia’s best teams, making us proud in the recent FIFA World Cup as well. If we can find a way to pay our best coaches the right amounts and have them coach at the bottom, it will be the best way to help the sport in India.

In the same way, we have a foreign player rule in the ISL, something similar could happen in the coaching setup too. If fewer foreign coaches come in, let’s say only at the ISL level, then that opens the door for many Indian coaches to excel at the I-League and Second Division League level. By the time they get groomed well enough at the lower levels, they are ready to take the step up and eventually coach a ISL side at the top.

I think it is very important for a coach to keep learning. As an assistant coach, I know how important it is for me to observe and learn from the head coach. I learnt a lot from Owen Coyle last season and added that to my arsenal as a coach. This season, I’ve learnt from Aidy Boothroyd and tried to make my coaching even better. This is extremely important because if you don’t take what’s good you’re wasting your time.

I think it’s very important that while we are in a results business today, it is extremely important that coaches at the top get time to implement their philosophy on a team. It takes time to adapt to a new place as it is, getting to know players and if the team needs to perform better it is a gradual process. That being said, one must adapt pretty quickly because if not, time does tend to run out.

Finally, I do think Indian football is moving in the right direction. From the days that I was a player, things have changed dramatically. The condition of the grounds, the travel, the accommodation, the timings of matches, the money involved, all these things have improved. But the focus needs to stay the same. A pathway has been created now but with the right moves made from top to bottom, we can go even higher.

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