India: Changing style of play is a long-term process

Changing coaches at the senior level is not going to turn India into Spain, work needs to be done at the grassroot level...

'Why can't this team thread more than three passes together?'

'Why did the defender just kick the ball out of play?'

'Why are we allowing the opposition to keep the ball?'

'We are playing for a draw! Sack the coach!'

'For **** sake, stop parking the bus and attack!'


Have you ever watched top European clubs pass the ball around and play attacking football and wished India played like that? Well, it will take a lot more than wishes and cheering to make that dream come true. 

At a time when Indian football is visible to the rest of the world, the country has continuously been hyped up and touted as a 'sleeping football giant'.

The defeat to Bahrain that caused the Asian Cup exit and the way it came about was not all down to Stephen Constantine or the set of players who took the field. Despite dealing with the attack of Thailand and UAE well in the first two games, it was India's defensive mentality that was exposed in the final group game. 

Stephen Constantine India Bahrain Asian Cup 2019

Growing up, a lot of the current crop of footballers in India were taught to play different versions of Route One football. While there are exceptions, youth teams of clubs and academies often resorted to instilling a defensive mentality to the young players that left them clueless when they had the ball at their feet. 

Most of the players in India started playing regular football at a later age when compared to European countries.

Former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen touched upon India's football culture when he was the head coach of Kerala Blasters. He had said,"There is a different way of going from back to front [in modern football]. There is nothing wrong with being direct but it needs to be direct with quality, that is the difference. Just by kicking the ball forward and then hit and hope, that is not my style." 

The Dutchman did not succeed in India but his point is valid. 

This Indian team will continue to drop deep when they feel pressure, it has nothing to do with the coach or the players. It is just how they have been taught. The qualifier match against Kyrgyzstan gave us the hint and the defeat to Bahrain was the confirmation if it all anyone needed it. 

India National Team practice game

Could the coach have picked more players who are comfortable on the ball? Of course. But do India have excellent ball-players who can compete against strong teams and dominate matches on the international stage?

One cannot bring up examples of ISL teams because most of them, in the absence of the foreign stars, play as badly as second division teams.

Bedding in a new football philosophy is a long-term process and it should start at the grassroots level. It requires the young footballers to be taught how to work with the ball and be comfortable on it. 

Jeakson Singh India U17

Chinese football may have many detractors but the one thing they did right was to set a long-term goal. China wants to become a world football superpower by 2050. They intend to get 50 million people playing football, have at least 20,000 football training centres and 70,000 pitches in place by 2020.

India have a slight chance to play a 48-team World Cup but are they competent to play possession-based football? India have highly talented youngsters who are comfortable with the ball in tight spaces but that style needs to be the norm rather than the exception in order to succeed at the highest level.

From back to front, footballers need to be taught how to work in tight spaces and be fearless of keeping the ball. And the kids are the quickest to learn.