Being groomed under the likes of Gianluca Zambrotta and Rene Meulensteen will certainly benefit the likes of Shakti Chauhan and Thangboi Singto.
The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) may not have had an Indian head coach in its brief three-year history but the contribution of Indian coaches to their respective club has gone under the radar. Their role in bridging gaps, between the head coach and the squad as far as communication and the language barriers are concerned, is highly understated.
Whether it’s Bastob Roy of ATK or Ishfaq Ahmed at Jamshedpur, the assistant manager’s role in the Hero ISL isn’t just about coaching or relaying instructions in the local language. It also involves persuading a coach about the requirements of key individuals on the pitch.
An assistant coach must possess scouting, communicating, training and man-management skills. Even though the eventual starting XI is the head coach’s decision, their role with the team acts as a learning experience for them, while also enhancing the Hero ISL’s mission of developing Indian football in a holistic way.
Following an increase in the number of Indian players on the pitch this season, the significance of Indian coaches in the assistant role will also assume more importance. “The role is not restricted only to on-field activities, but it also involves acting as a liaison between a foreign coach and the Indian players. It includes interpreting, mentoring, motivating and also maintaining the synergy between foreign and Indian players,” said Shakti Chauhan, who’s been assistant coach of Delhi Dynamos FC since its inception.
The upcoming season will feature at least seven Indians, who will be integral members in the technical staff of Hero ISL clubs: Chauhan (Delhi Dynamos), Pradhyum Reddy (FC Pune City), Bastob Roy (ATK), Derrick Pereira (FC Goa), Thangboi Singto (Kerala Blasters), Alex Ambrose (Mumbai City), Ishfaq Ahmed (Jamshedpur FC) and Noushad Mousa (Bengaluru FC) are all assistant managers, while Syed Sabir Pasha is set to don the role of technical director at Chennaiyin FC.
Pereira and Singto are backed by their storied careers as head coaches in Indian football. They are known to be hands-on trainers with loads of experience in the Indian footballing circuit. Ahmed, on the other hand, has played for some of the top clubs in the country and was a part of Kerala Blasters’ playing roster before moving into coaching.
“I train with the players as well. Training with them helps me evolve and makes the players feel that I’m one of them. So, I try to see from their point of view. Given that I was playing till last year, I would like to gain the trust of the players by bonding with them,” Ahmed said.
Even though they harbour hopes of wearing the head coach’s hat someday, both Delhi’s Chauhan and Jamshedpur’s Ahmed agree that learning the tricks of the trade in the assistant managerial role is just as important. “I have learnt so many different styles of football coaching — first under Belgian Harm van Veldhoven, then under Brazilian Roberto Carlos and last season with Italian Gianluca Zambrotta. This season we have a Spanish coach (Miguel Angel Portugal). So different playing styles, procedures and training methods,” said Chauhan.
The trust between the head coach and his right-hand man is also very important. “I’ve got a great understanding with Steve Coppell and it makes me feel good when he asks me to take sessions. He keeps me pretty much involved in everything and it’s been a great experience to build a team from scratch,” Ahmed added.
Interestingly Kerala Blasters have one of European football’s most popular former assistant coaches as their head coach now. Dutchman Rene Meulensteen worked with none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, which makes his selection of the meticulous Singto as his assistant an obvious one.