The revival of the Durand Cup was something that delighted me personally. It has long been a part of the heritage of Indian football and we were delighted on receiving the invite to play in such a prestigious tournament. But we were faced with a big decision heading into the tournament – whether we should send a few of the first team players alongside the developmental team.
There was no question in our minds that the developmental team would form the core of the side heading to Kolkata. I mean, why have a developmental team in the first place if we are not willing to give them the opportunities to give them the requisite exposure? We would have been one of the favourites, had we had taken some from the senior side.
And even if we had won it, would it have made an impact when we consider the larger picture? We didn’t feel so. There is such a long way to go for Indian football and we can’t afford to be myopic about all of this.
This was a brilliant opportunity for our boys to rub shoulders with some quality opponents and we were not going to let this opportunity slip by.
Baptism by fire
The boys did brilliantly to win the Goa Pro League last season – coming up against some really quality opponents and this was an opportunity to gauge ourselves further. We knew that this was going to be a ‘baptism by fire’ for the developmental team.
In the end, as we look back, we are not only proud of the team’s results but also the performance that they put forth. The test in front was exciting. There were two teams in the group that had finished in the top three of the I-League last season whilst the other one was the defending champion.
We had faith in the ability of our boys but this was like going into the unknown against some real formidable sides. Not many expected us to get results let alone be able to match the other teams stride by stride.
What impressed us all was not only that we were able to eke out results but how we were able to dominate all the games whilst also creating opportunities time and again. We probably should have qualified if we were a little sharper, but that’s another lesson.
A thing that shone through was that we had a real positive mentality going into the games. For a team whose average age is just 20, it is very easy to get overawed by the stage and the opponents but our youngsters never let that happen and I will attribute that to both Clifford Miranda (the head coach of the developmental team) and the boys.
Our outlook in the games against both Chennai City and Real Kashmir was encouraging. When we were under pressure on the field, our guys showed technical ability and brilliant grasp of tactical play to get out of trouble. And when up against physicality – especially in the game against Real Kashmir, we never shied away.
We have to teach the kids to play with the ball. Playing without the ball drains you out physically. Decision making is another big thing. The time you spend on making a decision is a really big point.
The players that played in the Durand Cup have been with us for two years now and moving into the third year. The tactics and know-how have been drilled into each and they know what to do in each situation.
At the age of 20, they should be tactically astute and ready to play, but in India, the development starts too late to inculcate all this into the youngsters.
This Durand Cup as a whole has been encouraging. I have seen players like Kingslee (Fernandes), Sarineo (Fernandes) and Princeton (Rebello) starting with the U-18 team. They not only have come through the ranks but have also progressed considerably as individual talents.
This was just a vindication of our methods and our belief. There is still a long way to go but these are the shots in the arm that we need time and against to be able to help pursue our goals.