Dutch coach Eelco Schattorie has re-joined Indian Super League (ISL) side NorthEast United as their head coach for the upcoming season.
Schattorie was in charge of the franchise last season as an assistant to Avram Grant. After a disappointing season where the team finished at the bottom of the league table, the management has upgraded the Dutchman’s role. Avram Grant also has been retained by the side, albeit as technical advisor.
Former Pailan Arrows and Dempo coach Arthur Papas has also joined the NorthEast think tank. The Australian will serve as an assistant coach to Eelco.
Both Eelco and Papas have prior experience of coaching in India. The Dutch coach came to the country during the 2012/13 I-League season as United Sports Club’s (then Prayag United) coach. He then managed Kolkata giants East Bengal in the 2014/15 season.
Papas too came in India during the 2012/13 I-League season and managed Pailan Arrows. He later served Dempo as their head coach and also worked as an assistant to former FC Goa coach Zico.
As the Highlanders prepare for the fifth season of the ISL, Goal caught up with the former East Bengal coach for a chat at the team hotel in Guwahati. Below are the excerpts:
Q - Why did you choose to come back to NorthEast United FC?
ES - Last season in January, I got a request from my agent if I would be interested to work with Avram Grant. It would have been always good to have on your CV that has worked on a higher level. So I was very interested in doing so. When we started, I was doing ninety per cent of the work. Avram let me do the planning and the execution of the training. I was very happy with that. The decision eventually for who is going to be playing was taken by Avram.
After the season, few months went by and Avram decided not to continue and the club asked me if I would be interested. Of course, it would be a job I would love to take, take the challenge to try to get for the first time to the playoffs.
Q - How will the 3-man think-tank work out at the club?
ES - Avram is there in the background as an advisor. It is not that I will have to get a permission or something to play someone on the team. For the daily routine, Arthur and I are in charge and if there is anything that needs advise or support, then Avram might get into the picture.
Q - Who picked the Indian contingent of the club?
ES - The process of choosing Indian players was in the time frame when Avram was supposed to be the head coach this season. So, all the Indian players would be going through Avram and he would give his approval. There are a few players I advised (for) and a few players I didn't see. Overall, there is a mix of players which came from Avram, me and the club because there was a time frame when Avram suddenly said I am not going to continue and we still had to fill some slots.
Q - Did you recommend all the foreign signings of the club?
ES - We did that all together. But, I don't want to go into details regarding who chose who. They are here now. For me, the most important thing is that we are going to get the best out of them. With some players, it is always difficult because you have never seen them play live. But, I think we made some good choices and we are going to make the best out of these choices, try to aim as high as possible.
Q - What sort of discussions did you have with owner John Abraham ahead of the season?
ES - See, I have been in football longer than John Abraham or the club and I say this with respect. Football is generally a sport where today you're a hero and tomorrow you are zero. I really take the process of our team (on a) day-to-day (basis). Our goal, of course, irrespective of the past, will be the same as teams like ATK or Delhi Dynamos. All the ten teams have the same goal - to qualify for the playoffs and become champions.
Everybody has the hope or the feeling of 'we need to qualify' or 'we need to be champions'. I have seen that so many times in my life where expectations have been way too high. There is only one team that eventually gets what they want and the other nine are left disappointed. The first aim is to get the playoffs because that is the first step and to get there, I take it day-by-day.
Q - Is making the marquee player rule optional a good move by ISL?
ES - I only look for quality. ISL should have two main goals - to attract more crowd and to develop football. In my experience where I have followed the ISL from a distance, if you bring marquee players who are older, most of them haven't delivered as expected. Clubs started realising that they will lose a lot of money and chose to spend less.
Clubs like NorthEast should be smart in their recruitment. I don't see the need to bring in a marquee player that has a big profile. Yeah, some people might come to the stands but he might not play properly, would get injured and you end up spending a lot. So, it doesn't serve the purpose.
For me, you should bring quality players that work both ways. It is not easy, because younger high-profile players won't fancy a move to India and I say that with great respect. But there are fine, decent good players. I am an idealist in these things. I am not a commercial person and I am with this club to help it and want the players to develop.
Q - What is your take on the decision of three breaks during the ISL season?
ES - There is nothing we can do about it because of the Asian Cup. In Europe. many leagues have a one or two-week winter break. That is not weird but in this case, the break will be longer. At that stage, you've already played twelve games and you only have six left. It could be an advantage as well as a disadvantage! You did really well in the first half, you are in a rhythm and a flow and now you have to stop. But, this can also work the other way round.
Q - What are the differences between I-League and ISL in terms of football?
ES - We have some players who have come from I-League teams. I am a hundred per cent sure if you come from Mohun Bagan or East Bengal, then you have a little bit of a background of working with some foreigners in a more professional setup. Other players that come from I-League teams are talented players but I have a few players that have never been coached! I am not going to say that in ISL, everything is fantastic, but the step from being in an I-League side to working with foreign professionals, you see a bigger gap.
Q - What do you make of NorthEast United's preseason so far?
ES - Pre-season is a key element for the process of going. If you ask me, I would say yes to a pre-season camp. But, the situation the club was in, with Avram Grant not coming, approval for me pending, in that time-frame, the planning for pre-season came under pressure. In the end, we were supposed to go on 9th and then come back on 20th (September). But, you will lose two days in going and coming and one day each for the players to acclimatise. So, you end up losing four days. In this situation, the best was to stay here. But I would have liked to go to a camp for two-three weeks and have all the time in the world to work with the players.
Q - What is your take on FC Goa winning a pre-season match 20-0? Does it make sense?
ES - If it was the first game, it is okay to get some rhythm but 20-0, that is very big! In Europe, you do have different levels of quality, so, it is very difficult to assess themselves. Either FC Goa are extremely good, they have a fantastic setup or something or the team they played was extremely bad. When I was in Holland, sometimes in pre-season, you won the first few games 8-0 or 10-0 because it was just the start but twenty is a little bit extreme if you ask me.