The Dutch tactician also spoke regarding the replacement of Sunil Chhetri and Indian football team’s FIFA World Cup chances.
Few coaches were so steadily involved in Indian football in the last decade like Eelco Schattorie. The Dutchman commenced his journey in the nation with Prayag United in 2012, and then went on to be at the helm of clubs like East Bengal FC, NorthEast United FC and Kerala Blasters FC subsequently. Accordingly, he has witnessed the progress of the Indian national team from close quarters and thus has certain key, vital observations of the Blue Tigers.
In an exclusive interview with Khel Now Football, Schattorie advocated for a realistic approach whilst assessing the country’s future in the sport. He said, “If the national team wants to succeed to reach the World Cup, then you have to be realistic about how are we going to reach that goal? To have that goal is good. If I look at the years of the national team getting their results, they also had many coaches. And somehow they got kicked out because the results were not good enough.”
Schattorie apparently believes that a change in formation that yield out better results for the team. That is because there is a lack of proficient players at the back and in the frontline. He added, “So, I think you really need to find out a system that is suitable for India and where you can get a result. I will most of the time play with five defenders, three midfielders and two strikers.”
“You don’t have many good defenders in India. There are not many centre-backs. So you need to compensate there. I would choose to play three in the back and two on the wing who can go up and down, because you have a lot of wingers in India and they have all the endurance.”
“Upfront, you only have (Sunil) Chhetri, who scores goals. But he cannot do that alone. So I will choose an extra striker besides him, and midfielders you have a lot in India. Within that system, you can still play attacking football,” the tactician remarked. Schattorie also seemed to be optimistic with respect to the quality of players that are emerging through the ranks. Igor Stimac is looking to implement a possession-based style of play and Schattorie had an elaborate say on whether the Indian team possesses of the footballers currently to thrive in such a system.
The 48-year-old observed, “I think the development of technical play, look like FC Goa, Odisha FC, there are enough teams in the league that play possession-based football. So, I don’t see that as a problem. It doesn’t matter which system you play. I played almost all systems in my career and in each system you can play attacking or more ball-possession based football. I think Stimac is good for that, as in what he wants. But, I will not do that in a formation that they do it now.”
Another intriguing issue plaguing the Indian football circuit is the lack of goal-scoring forwards in the country. Jeje Lalpekhlua has been battling his injury concerns for a considerable period of time now. The duo of Manvir Singh and Jobby Justin haven’t yet consistently proven their mettle on the field. Chhetri has been shouldering the majority of this responsibility, but Schattorie has a unique solution to this dilemma.
“I can mention you three players that I already know to have scoring ability. Rowllin Borges can score goals. Michael Soosairaj is one of the best goal-scorers that I have seen in India actually. He has a very good feeling to score goals. Rahul KP was playing with me and he has goal-scoring ability. I have to see if Ashique Kuruniyan’s scoring ability is good but I am sure he could also play as a striker. I am sure there are combinations that you can try that could bring more surprises than you think.”
Considering his comprehensive understanding of Indian football, Eelco Schattorie had a very practical response when asked about the national team qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. “You can answer that question, everybody can answer that question! It’s the big elephant in the room,” he expressed.
“I think you need to have the dream, the belief. But realistically, the last two games of the national team were against Afghanistan and Bangladesh. What were the results? We didn’t outplay them. If you aren’t able to dominate or stand out even in the region…look at United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia. These countries are already struggling to go to the World Cup. And we cannot even win against them. It doesn’t mean it cannot happen, but you need to be realistic,” he signed off.