Bengaluru FC's Head of Youth Development, John Kila, is very experienced when it comes to age-group coaching, having spearheaded youth programmes in his native Netherlands, Japan and New Zealand among other countries.
The Dutch coach has guided Bengaluru FC to the semifinal of the ongoing Nike Premier Cup 2018 where they are set to face DSK Shivajians on Tuesday.
Speaking to Goal ahead of the tie, Kila highlighted the importance of the Nike Premier Cup as far as youth development in India is concerned.
"This competition is very important. It is difficult to develop players without a proper competition," he said. "I wish it was even longer. We played 10 matches in Bangalore in the Zonal stage.
"We played 3 games here (in the National Finals) and now have reached the semifinals. For our players, it is always a challenge to play in the same age group. It is very important in developing youth."
Bengaluru FC's semifinal opponents are DSK Shivajians and Kila is not taking them lightly in any way. "I’ve seen DSK playing. The results have been very good for them. DSK’s match against East Bengal (2-1 win) was good. They are a physical and strong side. We have to prepare our young squad who are technically strong.
"I hope technical teams can beat physical players and hopefully we reach the final. It is very important for the players."
Kila went on to stress that Bengaluru FC were participating in the tournament without some of their strongest players, including Bekey Oram who is currently representing the India U16 team in Qatar. But he went on praise the level of his team who he felt were very advanced for this age-group.
"We played this tournament without our strongest players including Bekey Oram. But if you compare our team to other teams, we are far ahead of most players who are born after 2003. We have many players who can play this age group next year as well. That is a big compliment for us, especially for our technical team and scouting team."
Kila, who has coached in Ghana as well, went on to state that he was amazed by the talent young kids in India possessed but stressed that the right system was essential for them to blossom.
"The gap between European clubs and Indian clubs exists because there is age-group football at the age of just 6 or 7 in Europe which is not the case here. The younger you start, the better it is. It is very important to start young.
"I think there is so much talent in India. And if you have the right structure and coaches with the right competitions like the Nike Premier Cup, India has a bright future. I’m very positive about it.
"Also, give them the right grassroots programmes. It is very important. People should start football at 5 or 6 and you should organise leagues for them. It will bring down the difference with European football. It is unbelievable the (raw) quality that is here."
Kila took over Bengaluru FC in June 2016 and has overseen the development of the academy. He stated that the focus was on getting players from regions which had a lot of passion for football.
"We started the academy one and half years ago. We have players from areas like Mizoram, Kerala etc where we did scouting. Out of 5040 kids, we selected 52 players for our residential academy.
"Prasanth Kalinga and Leon Augustine graduated to the Bengaluru senior team this year. Prasanth debuted against Transport United (in the AFC Cup) which is fantastic for us. We look at sub-junior tournaments all over the country and pick talents. We also focus on our own players so that they can develop.
We have U13s and U11s who are not part of our residential setup. They are training already with us though."