The Dutchman spoke at length about his time in Indian football, Kerala Blasters, Sahal Abdul Samad and more.

The Indian Super League kept up with its tradition of keeping the football fans in the country engaged with some interesting content during the ongoing nationwide lockdown. Accordingly, former Kerala Blasters head coach Eelco Schattorie joined Anant Tyagi for an Instagram Live session, where the latter interviewed the Dutchman with some questions during the hour-long conversation.

Firstly, Schattorie spoke about how he is spending time amid the grave situation the world is engulfed in currently. He said, “I read, study a lot. I go through the YouTube videos of matches, the commentaries. I keep myself busy; my son is staying home, so I help him out with his homework. I also like to stay fit, so I do my workout. I am not a person who gets bored easily, so I always keep myself busy.”

He then proceeded to talk about the involvement that he has had with Indian football prior to his ISL responsibilities. The coach remarked, “2013 was the first time I arrived in India. At that time, Wim Koevermans was the national team coach. I got a call from an agent who asked whether I would be interested for a coaching job in India. At first, I didn’t want to take the offer and I had a call with Wim Koevermans. At that moment, he said it’s a sleeping giant.”

“I decided to give it a shot with Prayag United and took over after six games in the league. In the end, we finished at third position and in the second half of the season, we were unbeaten. We won the IFA Shield as well. They asked to sign a new contract and I did. But, there was a chit-fund scam going on at that time and the sponsor of Prayag United retreated.”

“We tried to search for sponsors and I went on to the next season. However, after some time the payments couldn’t be made and we have to provide for the family too, so I decided to leave,” Eelco Schattorie recollected.

“After 2-3 I came to East Bengal. I am a very honest person and it works against me sometimes. But, it was really a wrong moment to go to East Bengal. The owner of the club was detained by police and the club was upside down and not in the right spot. I left after three months, which is at the end of the season.”

Speaking about his stint with NorthEast United, Schattorie stated, “Avram Grant came to NorthEast and asked me to join, because he is a manager and he wanted someone to build the on-field job. I readily agreed. After a year, he didn’t continue with NorthEast, but I did and that’s how the journey continued from there.”

Well into the discussion now, Tyagi asked Eelco Schattorie about his thoughts on the season that he led Kerala Blasters in. “If I look at my year with Kerala, the first conversation I had with the management was fantastic. I felt the management wanted to build the team. If you watch the documentary ‘Sunderland Till I Die’, there are a lot of similarities with the dynamics outside the team having a huge impact on it. I would say that there was not one Indian player that I recruited and there’s no problem at all in that.”

“However, at that level we could have had stronger players. I thought we were in the job for a long-term project. The foreigners that we brought, I was involved in five out of the seven signings. In Mario Arques and Sergio Cidoncha’s arrival, I wasn’t involved. I don’t have any problems with them though. However, overall we had a good squad. I really think that we could have qualified if everyone was fit.”

“What annoys me is that the consistency was not there. There are few reasons I can elaborate and few reasons I cannot…Most importantly, I take full responsibility that we didn’t succeed, but not all circumstances were there for us. There are three main reasons,” continued Eelco Schattorie.

“First is the pre-season. The pre-season camp is essential to build physical abilities. Our camp got interrupted and the planning went sideways. We tried to fix that, but it was very difficult because when we came back to India we had to restructure the planning with the games. However, the planning moves backwards as the first priority is games, then comes the physical part.”

He further elaborated, “Still, we worked around that pretty well. People can tell me whatever they want, but I have been into coaching for 25 years. I never had so many injuries. In 17 games I was forced to play a different lineup. It’s not that I am doing anything different. Why in my other teams I didn’t have so many injuries? The physical planning of it is a big part of the pre-season.”

Midway through the insightful interaction, Schattorie was asked whether he would continue to be the head coach of Kerala Blasters in the next campaign of the ISL. He replied, “The answer is very simple. I know the answer. It’s surprising that the club didn’t give that answer to the media. I am a very loyal person, and as much as I love honesty and straightforwardness, I believe the club should answer that question.”

At the start of the campaign Schattorie appointed Bartholomew Ogbeche as the captain of the side. Sandesh Jhingan’s injury meant that the central defender was out for the season.

On the call he stated, “Maybe I could be wrong. I worked with Bart a year before and I knew the impact he could have on the team. Hence, I went with him. These things I never shy away from. I remember (Gianni) Zuiverloon asking ‘Don’t you think it would be a problem if you don’t make Sandesh the captain?’ I sat down with Sandesh and explained it to him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get him playing on the field, I know Bart way much better and hence I chose him,” said Eelco Schattorie.

One of the major issues that Schattorie had to tackle during his tenure with Kerala Blasters was bringing the best out of the fan-favourite Sahal Abdul Samad. The young attacking midfielder has caught the imaginations of fans in the state immensely. Hence, the head coach was constantly posed with questions regarding the reasons behind Sahal’s underwhelming 2019-20 season. The 48-year-old had a comprehensive response for the same.

He elaborated in detail, “There are few people who made fun of me on Twitter and otherwise when I said that I will make Sahal the best midfielder of India. If you give me time, I would. I know exactly what a talent needs. In the end, the talent should also contribute and want to learn. In all the teams I worked I had many talents.”

“The biggest thing to look at a young boy who is making it to the senior team through the junior levels is winning mentality. Secondly, either you play on the wing or the midfield; you need to do a certain job. Sahal has never been used to fitting in a system. I said that some players have never been coached. It was made to look as a comment on the previous coaches. No, I look at players who can pick information. Some players play on intuition. People would say why don’t you use that intuition more? I do.

“But, I have full stats of Sahal playing for Kerala Blasters and the national team and you will see that there is a clear line effectiveness that he does not have. That’s okay because that takes time for younger players. I had Redeem (Tlang) a year before at NEUFC. But, to fit in the system you need the basic job and he didn’t have that understanding sometimes because he works on intuition.

“In the last few games, he was really working hard and I will always praise a player. He has intuition, but consistency really takes time. That is also because of his background. He comes from a football school from Dubai or Abu Dhabi which does not have competitive football. However, if you give me more time I will definitely put all my efforts on him to improve the player,” stated Eelco Schattorie.

More to follow in the second part of this interview…

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