Former India skipper Baichung Bhutia, who heads the technical committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), believes there was ‘cultural misunderstanding’ between the India Under-17 World Cup team’s coach Nicolai Adam and the players, which ultimately led to the German being removed from the job. The players had submitted a signed letter to the AIFF in which they had alleged that the coach had physically and verbally abused them, following which the federation decided to part ways with the coach. However, Bhutia believes that different cultural backgrounds — of the players and the coach — is what led to the friction.
“These are boys who mostly come from remote places and have never been exposed to a foreign coach. And then you have a German coach who was a bit aggressive in his discipline. There was some kind of social and cultural misunderstanding, but I’m sure everybody’s intentions were right. It’s just that the two major parties were not gelling and working together,” he says.
For the first time in just under two years, the core team of India’s World Cup squad is at a training camp without a head coach. It’s the same set of players for whom the AIFF, in collaboration with the sports ministry, has broken the bank to fund high-quality training and exposure trips abroad — all in preparation for the youth event that India is hosting in October.
The AIFF is currently scouting for a new coach to take up the reins with the Under-17 World Cup to be played in India in October. Once bitten, twice shy is how the AIFF is approaching the hunt with a criteria for the incoming coach being a certain degree of experience when it comes to ‘Indian culture.’ “If we had one or two years’ time, we could have still gambled with a new face,” Bhutia says. “But now it’s a situation where it’s not only just a technical thing. We have to look at the players settling down, psychologically. And seeing how mentally comfortable they are with the new coach. So we’ll have to bring in a coach who knows a bit about the Indian culture because it’s a very short period.”
Bhutia and former international Abhishek Yadav, who was the chief scout, in turn have been instructed to play mediators between the players and the new coach to ensure a smooth integration between both parties. “I’m going to be there more as an observer and won’t be doing any training or technical role. I’ll be there to talk to the boys and get them to integrate and feel comfortable with the new coaches. I just need to see if everything is settled.”
Another aspect the former national skipper has to bridge is the language barrier. When the allegations against Adam first broke out, the veteran met with the players along with his former international teammate Renedy Singh. “A lot of the players are from Manipur and they don’t speak English or Hindi. They were talking to Renedy and he was explaining things to me. So I was wondering how they managed to understand what he (Adam) spoke,” he quips. “He (Adam) might have said something nice, but maybe in an aggressive way to cause a misunderstanding. They only saw his body language.”
It’s expected that a new coach will be recruited before the end of the month. The team is currently training under technical director and former India international Savio Medeira in Goa.