In Part 2 of our exclusive interview, the Dutchman recalls his early days in Indian football and offers thoughts on the I-League.

  • Coming to India for the first time
  • East Bengal the wrong move?
  • ‘An honest feedback is still a big challenge in India

Indian football, under Wim Koevermans, had seen its truest evolution in the last decade. The Dutchman had outlined a roadmap for the domestic game, down to the U-17 and U-15 leagues, directing clubs to play a specific style to contribute to the future of the Indian football team. The project was short-lived and may not have produced results as expected, but it had its positives. During that era, another Dutch coach had come to Indian shores and took the project at Prayag United, 5-6 games into the season. The club defeated United Sikkim 10-1 in the first game under their new head coach, and as they say, the rest is history. The manager is Eelco Schattorie.

“My first stint in India was around 2012-13. Wim Koevermans, a Dutch coach, was the manager of the national team. My agent told me about interest from India and I called up Wim. He told me that India is a sleeping giant and it’s a good chance for the future. I didn’t want to come in at first because India wasn’t known for football, but I took the step and joined Prayag United,” said Eelco Schattorie, who managed Kerala Blasters last season.

WATCH: All Kerala Blasters goals in 2019-20 season

Eelco Schattorie stressed on being ambitious and said that people learn new things if they take unexpected steps akin to his coming to India. He had kind words for Nabab Bhattacharya, a known figure in Kolkata football and the chairman of the Prayag United project then. “The chairman, Nabab (Bhattacharya) was a fantastic person, very good man. Till now, till date, he’s a connection. We were communicating daily and it was a good experience.”

He took us through the first season in India, amidst his struggles to understand the language, culture and players. As mentioned earlier, he had arrived 5-6 games into the season. “It was still difficult, because halfway into the season, you still need to know your players. It was a huge task. We had a good start. Then we had a spell of a few losses and draws because the players were getting used to the tactics. We also played the IFA Shield and won it. For one part of the league, we remained unbeaten. We finished third or fourth in the league and I was signed for another season.”

What went wrong, then? Prayag United had hit a roadblock due to financial difficulties. Eelco Schattorie did not mince his words. “Unfortunately, the sponsor was involved in some chit fund scam and we didn’t get a new sponsor. Bad luck for me! We started the season anyway without a sponsor, but I could only stay till November or December because they could not pay my salary anymore. It was a good spell, good team, but we could not continue.”

The relationship between him and one of the costliest players on the club’s roster Carlos Hernandez is well-documented. Hernandez, a two-time World Cup participant with Costa Rica, wasn’t at his physical best when he arrived to India from Melbourne Victory. Eelco talks in detail about him.

“When I arrived, he was overweight, too fat. Not fit, totally. I don’t care whether you play a World Cup or you’re a junior player, you need to be fit. In the first 2-3 games, I played him, but I substituted him at half-time or in the second half because he was dropping (in fitness). That created a conflict because I was doing it for the team.”

He also reflected on how he turned it around with the playmaker, “I invited Carlos for a dinner and I prepared myself with some pictures from his career. Some of them were from Australia, where he was skinny fit. I sat down with him and told him – ‘Carlos, you need to be fit.’ He said that he was always like that. I showed him the pictures and he realized that I was trying to help him. I got him a personal trainer and he worked hard. I gave him the role of a second striker, allowing him the freedom that helped him flourish.”

Our sources had revealed that Carlos used to take continuous massages before games and during training. Only when the team used to get to the pitch, he would come and take his spot. We shared this with Eelco and he opened up with a chuckle.

“Yes, it’s true (the massages). I think most people, football or not, try to cheat – to get as much as possible without doing as less as possible. I’ve met very few footballers who don’t do this. But, after our dinner, he started training every day and gradually, it became easier for him.”

If we keep the IFA Shield victory aside, the 10-1 win against United Sikkim was a special one for the team. In that game, Ranti Martins scored five times. The manager had special words for his then striker, comparing him to a current one.

“Ranti was a fantastic player, a very good boy. He was exactly like Bartholomew Ogbeche, my striker at Kerala and NEUFC (NorthEast United). Both are from Nigeria. Ranti was one of those players who was always on time in training, gave his all and always wanted to improve. His main quality was his ability to score goals. He was great inside the box. Outside the box, his qualities could’ve been improved. A fantastic player and we’re still in touch.”

After that brief but memorable stint with Prayag, Schattorie managed Kolkata giants East Bengal. He shares his experience.

“I think this was in January 2014. I was looking for a job after finishing one in Saudi Arabia and East Bengal was a big name. This deal was done within a week. I didn’t even have time to look into the details well. I took the risk and came to Kolkata. When I arrived, one of their major members was in jail and there was no real leadership within the club. I didn’t choose any of the players that I worked with and I had come just after the ISL had finished.

“A lot of players were returning from ISL clubs and they got injured after a hectic first ISL season. It was a very difficult season. We started playing and dominating, but then there were more injuries and I was just there for 3-4 months. It takes almost three months to implement your style of play. I blame myself for going there. It was a wrong time, a wrong moment.”

Not one to mince, his words were plain sailing talking about the current I-league’s quality and about the job at East Bengal, “The I-league – last year MB (Mohun Bagan) won it but in my opinion – it wasn’t very strong because not a lot of clubs were competing for the title. To pick up the East Bengal job at this moment in the I-league is not easy. I think the I-league has got down in terms of quality, but it’s still a very important league for the development of talent. I think the people involved (at East Bengal) should look within themselves because with such a huge fanbase and a culture of winning, there must be something wrong in the organization that’s preventing them from succeeding.”

He had told about his communication with Nabab Bhattacharya while at Prayag, so we quizzed him further about the same at the Red and Gold. Interestingly, he bared it all.

“At East Bengal, there was communication through e-mails, where somebody started telling me how the games were (performance-wise). They never sat down and talked to me about it. I do think management can have a say in the footballing part, but communication must be there. Maybe it was due to a very short time I spent there.”

Eelco Schattorie also shared another glaring problem he thinks persists in Indian football. He highlighted, “I think if you really want to improve, the players and coaches need to be honest with each other. At times, it’s difficult in India if you speak the truth; it is sometimes felt as an attack. Where I come from, if you have to improve, you just say it as it is and it’s not considered personal. It (an honest feedback) is still a big challenge in India.”

Schattorie is currently in the hunt for his next assignment and has no offers from India at the moment. He has one offer from Europe, but it’s still unconfirmed.

For more updates, follow Khel Now on Twitter and join our community on Telegram. This interview is a part of a four-pieced exclusive conducted by Khel Now correspondent Tarkesh Jha.