From Houghton to Koevermans,Indian football set for sea change

Six years ago,a haughty Englishman arrived in India armed with a glittering array of accolades and ready for his toughest challenge yet

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Published: July 17, 2012 3:49:07 am

Six years ago,a haughty Englishman arrived in India armed with a glittering array of accolades and ready for his toughest challenge yet. And right away,Bob Houghton had staunchly endorsed the archaic long-ball game — an English trait where the team depends mainly on the wingers feeding the strikers with crosses — as Indian football’s way out of the mire.

On Monday,the All India Football Federation (AIFF) welcomed their latest messiah from a foreign land,a towering Dutchman,preaching the flavour of the season — the Spanish tiki taka.

Not only did Wim Koevermans,a 52-year-old former Holland defender,demand that the national team henceforth concentrate more on ‘possession’ football; he also called for a complete overhaul of the system that Sunil Chhetri & Co adopted during Houghton’s reign. Here’s another foreign coach with another great plan to resurrect the beleaguered hopes of Indian football.

Back in 2006,Houghton had insisted that his main priority was to include as many tall and physically-gifted players as he could in his team. That height was directly proportional to a rise in the FIFA rankings. Koevermans in contrast insisted that the need of the hour was for tinier and swifter players,possessing more ball skills a la Andreas Iniesta.

“The Spanish have proved that physical prowess is no longer the secret to success in football. And even in India from now on,players with superior skills with the ball will be preferred over the sturdier ones,” said Koevermans,India’s first full-time coach since Houghton resigned in 2011.

It won’t be until next week that Koevermans gets to meet his new wards for the first time,during the Indian team’s preparation camp for the Nehru Cup. But he claimed to have already spotted some of the problems responsible for India’s failure to keep up with the international standards. Mostly to do with the long-ball approach,he admitted.

“I’ve noticed this strange tendency of giving the ball away too often in the quest for those long passes. We are going to work hard on keeping it for as long as possible. It’s not going to be easy though,” he said.

Along with compatriot Rob Baan,who is the AIFF technical director presently,Koevermans also plans to inculcate India’s brand new style of football from the grass-root levels itself. A bottom-to-top approach is the only way out,he added.

“India have been playing a 4-4-2 formation. But it’s the style that matters. And with possession football,you can alter formation the way you want to,and that’s going to be our approach,” added the coach,who came in for a lot of praise following his previous assignment as High Performance Director in Ireland.

Emulating the style of the present world and two-time European champions,however,will be easier said than done — especially for a country ranked 163 in the world. Koevermans claimed to be aware of that. Though the analogy he offered in response seemed to be filled more with hope than conviction.

“Spain took 40-50 years to develop their style of play. It will take India a long time too. For now,I’m looking forward to spend two weeks with the boys.”

Under Houghton,Indian football did experience some unprecedented heights,winning two Nehru Cups,an AFC Challenge title,and qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years. But at the time of his departure,the team’s ranking had hit rock-bottom again.

“We are hoping that the rise is gradual but consistent rather than we just climbing a few places and falling back again,” explained Koevermans.

For now,he’s already got a taste of the kind of obstacles that will lie in his path with the AIFF and the I-League clubs at loggerheads over the duration of the Nehru Cup camp,with the association demanding that the players be released for an extra week. The tall and short of it can wait.

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