Luis Norton de Matos had a tough job to do as he took over the reins of Indian U-17 coach’s role in March this year. This was after Nicolai Adam and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) parted ways in acrimonious circumstances.
The former Benfica ‘B’ coach has made several changes to the team after he took over from Adam. One of the first things he did was to call more players for trials and he wanted players of a certain height in key positions – goalkeeper, centre-backs, central midfielders and strikers.
Norton was also open to the idea of including Namit Deshpande and Sunny Dhaliwal into the squad even though they joined the team very late. Why? Because they fit into the profile of players he was looking for.
Speaking to Goal exclusively, he explained what is it in a player that he looks for and also shared his reasons as to why in certain positions, you need to scout for a particular profile.
“I think the first criterion to test a player is through his talent. You can have a combination of talent and profile for certain positions. If you’re 1.80 meters, it's impossible for you to be number one in gymnastics or if you're 1.60 meters it's impossible to be good in basketball. In all kinds of sport, excellence can be earned through hard work. Obviously, you need some skills to do that hard work. If you have wingers, it's not so important if they are big or not but they must be fast. For certain positions like central defence, goalkeeper and so on, being big is important,” explained Norton.
One look at India Under-17’s midfield and you can tell why he agreed to include Jeakson Singh. The tall midfielder operates as a number six and also has good passing range. Norton explained that it is vital to know what one expects from a certain position and then scout for the player.
Unlike the previous coaches India have had in recent times, the obsession to play like Barcelona is rather unrealistic because in order to achieve that, you need players to be playing in a certain manner for several years and only then you get to see the ‘tiki-taka’ brand of football.
“You look at Mourinho’s Manchester United. Their central midfield is (Nemanja) Matic, (Marouane) Fellaini and (Paul) Pogba. Each of the three players are tall. They are good with the ball and also recover it, win the second balls as well. This is something which I like,” he shared his insights.
“But you can also have Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta and (Lionel) Messi. It depends on how they play. Barcelona never play long balls but control the game by possession. Barcelona model is an exception to the rule though. The other teams control the game in the way they recover the ball because they are very strong in that department,” he further added.
India have been practising on set-pieces, both offensively and defensively. Norton highlights that India’s best chance to score is from a deadball situation and they must be ready to take those opportunities.
“Almost 50 percent of the goals in football are through corners and free-kicks. These kinds of things for me is all about the organization and knowing what you want from each position. You have to define the position’s role in the game and what profile of players you need.
“What are the profiles of the players, how does the team play. Every coach has a model of playing. For example, you play two wingers, one number nine and one number 10. So you must look for players who can play in this manner. When you construct a building, it starts from the base. The base for us is to defend well. It does not mean that we play defensively but in an organized manner,” he elaborated.
“When the game ends, we say that the opponents were stronger than us but it was actually due to the individual actions through corners or free-kicks that we have difficulty with. People think that it's easy to defend. It's not easy to defend because the general notion when you have the ball is to attack,” he illustrated.
On Friday, India Under-17 team will for the very first time play in front of a packed stadium. Norton mentioned that there are certain areas which are difficult to control such as how would a player react under pressure as this will be a novel experience.
Although he did take them to Benfica’s game to experience what it’s like to watch a game, playing one is a different proposition altogether.
“A competition brings us a lot of information that a player needs. For example, when we play our first game in Delhi, I don't know how many people are going to be there. Suppose there are 40,000 people, how will the player react? Some may play much better than usual and other may feel blocked by the audience.
“It's a completely new thing to play with the crowd and responsibility. Even as a nine-year-old if you're playing in a final, the emotions from the public is also there. Perhaps the public includes family and friends, but they create a kind of a pressure.
“However, this experience doesn't exist in India as the boys haven’t played in competitive matches in front of a full stadium,” he pointed.
Although a tough task at hand, Norton is expecting his boys to deliver and play to his instructions in order to get the best possible result at the Under-17 World Cup.
Remember, it’s time to celebrate India’s participation and not judge.