The Scottish tactician talked about his side, expectations in the top flight as well as the local derby.
Following a successful campaign in the 2nd Division I-League, Real Kashmir have become a club that everyone likes to talk about. The North Indian side were formed only four years ago and since then, they have become the first club from the Valley to make it to the Indian top flight. The Srinagar-based club qualified for the 2018-19 season of the I- League, where they will be competing against powerhouses Minerva Punjab, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
Khel Now correspondent Neelam Sharma sat down with the tactician behind Real Kashmir’s success, head coach David Robertson, the ex-Rangers man who was given the task to develop the side from scratch, for a tete-a-tete.
“It was an amazing journey and story as to Real Kashmir doing the impossible. We started selecting the team through various trials and player recommendations,” the former Aberdeen and Rangers man started off. “We started practice at the end of January and first thing we did was create a fun, team-spirit and environment,” he added.
Watch: Real Kashmir became the first club from the Valley to be promoted to the top flight of Indian football
“This is the key of any success and you can’t achieve success without it. We trained the team so hard and, in my opinion, we were the fittest team and it showed in the first two playoff games, where we 2-1 down with minutes to play and came back to draw and win games,” Robertson reflected.
During his playing career, he plied his trade as a defender and represented Scottish behemoths Rangers. He fondly recalled his time with the club. He was also an integral part of the team that qualified for the Champions League in the 1992-93 season.
“That season I played 54 games. It was a long season. We won the domestic title. We won the league, the League Cup and Scottish Cup. It was a fantastic season. It was a great achievement,” the tactician recollected.
“That Rangers team was great but probably not the best. Many times, we were 2-0l down but we’d come back. We knew that we can win. To be honest, I was fortunate to be part of that fantastic team.” He added.
Robertson also feels that Real Kashmir have the ability to continue their performance in the I-League this season
The 49-year-old described his thoughts on his side’s historic win against Hindustan FC in the final of the 2nd Division I-League. “For a club of our size and budget, I’d never thought at the start that we’d qualify. It’s a miracle, a fairy-tale. Being new to the league we will have to make sure we defend better.”
“In the I-League 2nd Division we did not have many defensive options. This time we will have a lot more, with the foreign players I bring in, I prefer them to be able to player multiple positions or be a bit more versatile. Mason (Robertson) can play as a striker and is very good in the air. I know how he plays and he will do well in the I-League. We need to be better in wider areas defensively and I have addressed this.”
“Having said all of this, we need to make sure we have pace further forward and have a real scoring ability, as we can’t go and defend all season. We need to have a strong capability of scoring goals and let other teams worry about us,” the former Phoenix FC manager said.
Although, stunningly beautiful, Kashmir has been ravaged by political unrest and terrorism. But Robertson, who has made the place his second home, revealed that he is not the least bothered by it.
“I have not encountered any issue at all in Srinagar and can walk around no problem at all and feel safe. I read and hear about some issues, but have never faced any fear at all. If there was any fear for my safety I would not be here. The worst I have come up against was restrictions within the city, which meant players couldn’t get to practice,” he assured.
The Real Kashmir gaffer was asked about the expectations of his side in the I-League next season to which he answered rather swiftly. “There have been a few teams promoted that have done well such as Minerva, NEROCA and Aizawl, so there is no reason we can’t cause an upset. If we can adapt to the league early, anything can happen, There is a lot of pressure on the big, established clubs within the league. So, new teams can play with no fear as the expectations are low.”
“We want to do well and achieve great things, but first we need to do show we are good enough to compete and take points. But, I’m optimistic we can have a good season,’’ he further added.
Robertson also talked about the fans’ support in Kashmir and the rivalry between Lonestar Kashmir and Real Kashmir. “I would love Lonestar to join us in the I-League. It would be incredible to have two teams from Kashmir,” he opined before adding, “The support is always strong in Kashmir and games are exciting. The fans are supportive and noisy with games here.”
“The local derbies are special and the supporters are close to the pitch and it can be intimidating. It would be a great spectacle on TV. They can be noisy and passionate. It’s a very similar atmosphere to Rangers Vs Celtic in Scotland. There is never any trouble, but teams coming to Kashmir will find it tough to play in the environment which can be intimidating,” he concluded.