The Snow Leopards’ head coach expressed his views about his first impressions of Indian football after his arrival in 2017.
The 2020-21 I-League season is only a couple of weeks away and teams have already started preparing for what promises to be an exciting season ahead. Needless to say, Real Kashmir are one of the favourites to win the title and ahead of the new season, Khel Now caught up with head coach David Robertson who opened up on a host of topics in our podcast – ‘Beyond The Scores.’
After spending a major part of his playing career at Scottish clubs Aberdeen and Rangers and English side Leeds United, recurring injury problems forced Robertson to hang up his boots in 2002. The 52-year-old then donned the role of a manager and after stints at Elgin City, Montrose and US-based Phoenix FC, he arrived in India to take charge at Real Kashmir in 2017. The Snow Leopards were plying their trade in the Second Division League back then and he played a major role in them winning promotion to the I-League. Under David Robertson, Real Kashmir also became the first club from the state to feature in the then top flight of Indian football.
Upon being asked about the circumstances that led to his arrival in the country, the coach said, “I was living in the US at that time, when an agent approached me and asked if I were interested to coach a new club ‘Real Kashmir.’ I had just completed my 10-year anniversary in the US and I was looking for new challenges. I had offers from Uganda and China, but I thought that the appeal of a new club would be something worth trying out. And I knew nothing about India before arriving here.”
“I didn’t know much about the league system here – all I knew was that the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and Roberto Carlos have been a part of the Indian Super League (ISL). But, I also knew that this was a new club.”
“The clubs that I had coached till then, both in Scotland and the US, were already established clubs. So, it was a new challenge. We had to start from scratch with regards to many things such as facilities and infrastructure, which were generally taken for granted in the already-established clubs that I had been a part of. It has been an interesting journey so far, when you look at where we began and where we are now,” he further explained.
The coach then proceeded to speak about the other major challenges faced by the team and him, including the prospect of playing football in the unique landscape of Kashmir. “Well, I used to think that the whole of India was very hot with a sunny climate and it was very different in Kashmir. The cultural and geographical conditions of the area are also very difficult. The internet was patchy at best and communication was very difficult. Occasional snowfall made it tough to train,” he said.
“When I go back home and tell these stories, my people listen to it with surprise. But, it is what it is. We had to adapt to whatever conditions were on offer and that is what we did.”
When asked about the initial impressions on Indian football in general and Kashmir in particular, David Robertson said that it was difficult for him to gauge because they played very few games in the beginning.
“We played very few matches early on. We did not play home matches for a while because of the weather and all my players were not available. But, as we kept playing, I understood that the players were good. At one point, I was very surprised with their level. I’ve been in India for four years now and one thing I’ve understood is that you can look at any player in the league and you can immediately tell which part of the country they’re coming from, based on their physique, playing styles and so on.”
The 52-year-old also spoke on how Kashmir has treated him, as he said that the people are very warm.
“Kashmir has treated me well so far. The supporters are very nice and the facilities we have been given are very good. As you know, there is a general air of tension in the state, but our club’s owners protect us very well from all of it. The club has done a lot of good for the state as well and now it is like a second home for me,” David Robertson said.
Last week, Real Kashmir won their first-ever IFA Shield by beating George Telegraph in the final. The club have also made a host of key signings and are definitely looking to carry forward their good form into the I-League.