In an editorial last year, Goal.com had mused upon the influx of foreign coaches in India. After 17 rounds of the I-League, a more definitive picture is being formed, from which one can predict where each side could expected to be, at the end of the season.
Of all the stats that could be thrown up to define the season, one that has largely evaded the notice of one and all, is the dominance of the Indian coaches in the league.
While the foreigners now out-number the Indians eight to six in the hot-seat, 5 of the top seven clubs at the present moment are coached by Indians!
The 5 clubs, namely Churchill Brothers, Dempo SC, Pune FC, Mumbai FC and ONGC FC, all have local trainers at the helm.
The 6th club, Air India, has still not managed to get a full-time coach and interim head, Anthony Fernandes, does not yet possess an AFC “A” license.
Of the 5 teams named above, the first three are no surprises at the top of the table, but Mumbai FC and ONGC FC have definitely been the surprising package of the campaign.
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Khalid Jamil’s side just about managed to avoid relegation last year, but after a slow start, where they lost the opening four fixtures in the league, have hit top gear. While they are not the most pleasing to the eye, with Prayag United’s Eelco Schattorie even calling them anti-football, what cannot be denied is, that their methods have proved effective.
Yusif Yakubu and Haroon Amiri have been in inspirational form for the side, and Khalid Jamil has made his workman-like team hard to beat.
But the story of the season definitely has been Santosh Kashyap, and his as well as ONGC’s resurgence, since the former Air India coach took over at the club.
Kashyap was a victim of impatience at Mohun Bagan, and was sacked within two games of the I-League’s start while his squad was ridden with injuries. It seemed it might be a while before he returned to the limelight, as first Salgaocar FC, whose manager Karim Bencherifa replaced him at Mohun Bagan, knocked back his advances to appoint David Booth.
This was followed by United Sikkim, who decided against having him at the helm, instead handing the reins to Nathan Hall, who has had a torrid time ever since given the poor squad at his disposal.
Eventually instability at ONGC paved a way for his return. However one feared that his reputation would only be further tarnished at the then bottom placed club, who seemed destined for relegation.
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What has followed though, is perhaps even beyond his wildest dreams, as the club has picked up 15 points from their last 7 games, having not lost in any of them. From bottom of the pile, they have risen to a more than respectable 7th, which must leave the clubs currently battling relegation, regretting their decision of not taking a chance on Kashyap.
Having shown street-smartness in playing to the strengths of a very limited squad, he has shown the adaptability that the foreign coaches at United Sikkim, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa have failed to give any evidence of.
The same could be said of Desmond Bulpin, who recently got the sack at Shillong Lajong, as he failed to adapt after the Reds failed to adapt to his direct style of football.
Even Churchill Brothers, under technical director Subhas Bhowmick and coach Mariano Dias have worked wonders, becoming frontrunners for the title, after being written off as also-rans even before the season began.
Infact, the heat is on Trevor Morgan and Eelco Schattorie, the two members of the foreign group in the top 7, as their respective sides falter in meeting their respective aims of winning the league title.
After a strong start, East Bengal’s form has dipped markedly in recent times, with goals hard to come-by. Prayag United on the other hand have been their own worst enemies, with inconsistency plaguing the outfit.
While the aim of this piece is definitely not to look down upon foreign coaches, with the likes of Morgan and Schattorie, amongst others, bringing in modern tactics and methods to their respective clubs, what cannot be denied is that in a ultra-result oriented and impatient league like the one in the country, it is the methods of Indian coaches that have borne the best results this season.
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