(L to R) Thangboi Singto, Derrick Perriera and Khalid Jamil are just three of several Indian managers with a Pro License and therefore eligible to coach a team in the Indian Super League.
Since the formation of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014, one rule has been inflexible -- Indian coaches have not been allowed to take charge at the helm. Things have changed though over the past week -- the league have reframed the provision, allowing Indian coaches to head ISL teams provided they have a Pro Coaching Licence.
In previous seasons, multiple Indian coaches have worked as assistant coaches, liaisons almost between the foreign appointee and the players, and this decision opens doors for many talented Indians with Pro licenses -- men like Derrick Periera, V Soundararajan, Naushad Moosa, Khalid Jameel, Thangboi Singto -- to take charge. Sure, the truth is that an Indian coach heading an ISL team could very well take more time, but things look to be moving in the right direction.
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ONE RULE MANY CAVEATS
The rule of not allowing Indian coaches to head the team was considered bizarre by many and faced criticism right at the onset. The fact that domestic coaches were not allowed to take charge of their top division seemed an archaic idea, but was perhaps necessary to boost the domestic game and allow Indian coaches to work with foreigners and gain valuable exposure.
Furthermore teams’ fixation with foreign coaches was magnified in the early years because of the influx of big name foreign players in teams. Most teams would hire coaches -- and indeed players -- on an annual basis, with short term gains at the top of the agenda. Over the years though, this idea has changed.
A huge reason for the shift also lies in the football market itself. As the ISL has expanded, teams have slowly turned away from marquee signings -- washed out players with little value on the pitch, but immense value off it -- and focussed instead on creating a product that produces results. Budgets have tightened too. Hiring licensed Indian coaches is a step in the same direction.
Football coaches bring in philosophies, players, knowledge and scouting systems, sport staff etc. One can only hope that employing Indian coaches at the top level of the game will have a domino effect on an ecosystem in need of revival. Coaches at the top will cast their nets further in their own networks for support staff and so on and so forth.
But this is pure speculation. The chances of an ISL club picking an Indian coach is distant, to say the least. If anything, rather than employ coaches with a Pro license there is a stronger probability hat those with A licenses, long term philosophies and an admirable work ethic will profit from this ruling. Former India players like Renedy Singh, Clifford Miranda, Sameer Nayak, Mahesh Gawli or even Floyd Pinto could reap the rewards in the future. This is a generation that has played at the highest level of Indian football and are considered the ‘golden generation’ for the Indian game. Nurturing them is to India’s benefit.
THE FOREIGN RATIO
Before Indian coaches take charge of ISL teams though, several other aspects need to be taken into consideration, the first of which involves the foreign player ratios presently prevalent in Indian football. Every country across the globe has its own stipulations about the rule within their domestic game, and Indian clubs -- for betterment of the Indian game -- will do well to look towards Asian countries which have slowly reduced the foreign quota to hone local talent. Smart clubs will make this work better, forsaking short term glories, and plan for the future, by keeping their budgets in check, investing in youth and preparing to take a hit now to profit in the future.
Let's also not forget that before every season the team structures are constantly being tweaked. In another two years, the roadmap stipulates that the relegation system will apply across all divisions. Rather than play with the foreign quota then, may as well take charge of it now. It is essential to do so, to protect not just the Indian player, but also the Indian game and the Indian coach. It is fair to say that when the foreign player ratios are reduced (to say, the three outfield players plus one goalkeeper) there is a high chance it will go to the I-League before it hits the ISL. Lower budgets, more local connect, and greater connect with grass root systems will enable this.
It is also more feasible to apply a blanket rule that forces all teams to employ Indian coaches, in the I-league than the ISL. But the ratios actually don’t matter, unless they are applied with thought. The idea of increasing Indian layers is to create core strength for the national team. For that Indians need to play key positions for their club sides. Currently, this doesn’t happen. It is fair to say that most positions that form the spine of a football team are being filled by foreign players, which in turn means that the core of the team is foreign. Indian players miss out on not just game time but also experience, exposure and are often played out of position to fll the minutes. This won’t do. With ratio amendments more thought needs to be given to its application to see real progress.
As much as the announcement has been long awaited it has now also raised the debate earlier whispered in the shadows. Who, of all the Indian coaches with Pro Licenses, is most likely to be offered an ISL job?
Derrick Periera looks the obvious candidate for the FC Goa job -- the one with not just a vacancy but also one that was filled by an Indian in a temporary role after Sergio Lobera’s sacking midway through last season. The Goan job though has many candidates, most with CVs more studded than Perrieira. Men like Dunga, Sven-Goran Eriksson and even Guus Hiddink have been rumoured to have expressed interest in the position.
Additionally, a question that must be asked is, how seriously foreign players will take Indian coaches really? India’s global football ranking is fairly low, and with it comes an innate arrogance that can be easily supplanted on the field.
It is ironic that this rule, and this debate itself, though, has come up in a week when India has lost one of its finest exponents of the beautiful game. PK Banerjee, the speedy winger, India international, Asian Games medallist was also one of the finest coaches India has ever seen. His ability to inspire players, local, foreign or even perhaps alien is legendary. Not just that, PK was also one of India’s few to achieve continental success coaching the national team.
It is a position that has over the years, has been out of reach for Indian coaches at every level, mostly because of the lack of exposure they have in the domestic game. For everyone who says the ISL has improved Indian football, this then has to become a priority.
Great football is not restricted to players. It extends to coaching systems, coaches, support staff and non-playing staff. An over reliance on foreigners will only diminish the national team while brightly burning the domestic fields. Giving Indian coaches a platform to gain valuable exposure -- even supporting them by giving them support in the form of foreign directors of football, high performance directors or position coaches can only benefit Indian football in the long run.