The Indian U-16 team head coach spoke on a host of issues in an Instagram live chat.

A country’s gradual turnaround in any sport is stimulated with the junior age-group sides making consistent progress over the course of a few years. While one eagerly waits for the senior national teams of the country to perform to their potential, it is the Indian U-16 side that has created quite an impact in the circuit. They qualified for the AFC U-16 Championship that would be held in Bahrain in November this year. Bibiano Fernandes is the man making the boys tick as the head coach of the team.

On June 18th, the group-stage draw for the tournament was conducted. Subsequently, the Indian team was drawn with the likes of Australia, South Korea and Uzbekistan for the first round of the competition. “I was watching it live. Before the draw I was not expecting anything. When I saw the three teams, I thought of my team who has already given an account of themselves in the qualifiers through their performances. I believe with my heart that these boys can perform on that stage with those teams,” Fernandes remarked.

What is the process through which this confidence emanates within the head coach? Whilst talking live through the Indian football team’s Instagram page, he shed some light on what goes into the making of such a coherent unit.

“I instill the values of life in these boys, the respect to teammates, opponents, game, referees, the staff and everyone. I teach them a lot of life lessons, giving them my experiences so that they can understand better,” the head coach explained. He further continued to state the importance of factors such as discipline and resilience, which aids a team in succeeding in such high-profile competitions.

When India secured a spot in the final round, Fernandes specified that the team can reach the quarterfinals of the AFC U-16 Championship

Bibiano also put forth the deftness with which one needs to guide these young boys. He observed, “I am not a coach who is strict on players. I ignore their naughtiness. I know they are U-16 boys; they must be missing their home. I understand they are sacrificing so much by staying in Goa.”

Fernandes further elaborated on the individuals who inspired him to grasp these positive qualities. He mentioned, “Discipline, I have learnt from reading about Sir Alex Ferguson. For tactics, I look up to Jurgen Klopp. Then keeping the ball (I learnt from) Pep Guardiola. Then, there’s a little bit of me too!”

However, Bibiano Fernandes is also looking to change the perception that people across the world hold about Indian football. He elaborated on this by remarking, “India is always underestimated in tournaments abroad. But, when we play a few matches, then they come to know what India is now. We have proven ourselves as dark-horses in the past. We want to break the silence with our performances.”

On the other hand, a strong youth setup cannot flourish without a scouting network that can tap young players and bring them under the federation’s wings. Here, the head coach was gracious to credit Vikram Nanivadekar, who heads the system for the same for the AIFF.

Fernandes claimed, “Our scouting system is in good hands. It is headed by Vikram Nanivadekar who is doing a great job. Sometimes, I also go out and help scout for players. The scouting has been really good and it is becoming better and better.” He further added, “It is difficult to cover the whole country, but since the system is in place we are trying to reach as many places as possible.”

Bibiano Fernandes shared some interesting insights regarding his team which won the SAFF U-15 Championship

The 43-year-old even said that the change in coaching education has resulted in the output of better quality of players. “The better the coach, the better the players,” seems to be Bibiano’s motto in life and he remarked that all the coaches right from the school and community level to the upper echelons of the system have a part to play in such prodigious talent emerging from the U-16 level.

Furthermore, he clarified that players are generally scouted from the Subroto Cup, the zonal competitions and so on. The head coach even admitted to having attended the national-level competitions whenever he could to spot more talent.

India had a fruitful run at the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship, where the team was knocked out by South Korea by a slender margin of 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

Reflecting upon the learnings garnered through that experience, Bibiano Fernandes stated, “The way you look at these competitions changes. That is how the scouting changes; you get to know the type of players you need to play at the top level against teams like Japan and South Korea. The previous U-16 teams have given us so many experiences; we have instilled those things in the current set of boys. I have believed in these boys. I am sure they will make our country proud.”

The U-15 team scored 28 goals without conceding a single goal in five games

The former India international even described the processes that the team is undergoing to sustain their fitness levels and sharpen their skills during the ongoing pandemic. Bibiano revealed that the boys actually underwent a 3-days per week training session through video calls, in which they worked on certain aspects such as strengthening, ball control, goalkeeping and so on.

The head coach hopes that the team would be able to play in some international tournaments when the situation normalizes. However, if that does not happen, he then stated that they would be looking to organize some high-level local matches for the players to gain match practice. Fernandes disclosed, “We are going to play matches in Goa, higher-level matches maybe against some lower-ranked Goa Pro League teams.”

Fernandes also very intricately elucidated the concept of peripheral vision in football. He believes that it is a technique through which a player could be aware of the happenings around him on a football pitch. It perhaps aids the passing abilities of the concerned individuals and Fernandes is of the strong opinion that this aspect of the game could be developed whilst one is indoors too.

Infact, he went on to proclaim that it is immensely difficult for players to succeed in AFC competitions without possessing this ability. He affirmed, “Peripheral vision is a small thing, but you have to get it in your subconscious mind. if you do it, then you rise to another level. As a player, if you make a conscious effort (to improve your vision) at the age of 16, you will have it in your game. It’s about looking at one thing (the football), but sideways you can see everything.”

Bibiano has been involved with the U-16 team for a considerable period of time now and garnered immense recognition for his work with the previous set of boys from 2018. He definitely is in a position to comment on the level in quality and performances of the Indian boys, as compared to their more prominent counterparts.

Having played against other sides such as Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan over the years, he assured that the gap between the Indian boys and others wasn’t too big. He said that just some more work was required on the ground, which the team is doing currently.

“We will be in the top-five of Asia, just a matter of time,” Bibiano Fernandes concluded.

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