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Five instances that define Luis Norton de Matos and his time in India

Written by: Punit Tripathi


The tactician failed to deliver what was expected of him but successfully planted the seed for the future.

It all began on March 01, 2017, when a former Portuguese player with efficacies from the famed Benfica Academy was appointed to guide a young side to a U-17 World Cup finals, incidentally India’s first. Former manager Nicolai Adam’s physical theatrics did not hold him in great stead and the All India Football Federation were forced to come up with a Plan B.

The Association did. They appointed the former Guinea-Bissau manager, who had played for Benfica and coached their academy as well. No dearth of ability on his CV made matters easy for the man. The boys, now, had to adapt to new methods in a span of barely six months and the world’s eyes were glued to the Blue Colts.

The team played good football, arguably, in practice games, both at home and abroad. The defence was catastrophic at times, but everything was discounted, keeping the bigger picture in mind. What else could you say, or do, with India’s first World Cup looming large in the near future?

Here are five moments that defined Matos’ time in India:

India's 3-0 loss to the USA

“I’m very unhappy that 50 minutes into the game, we couldn't score the goal. The game would’ve changed if the goal would’ve happened. Anwar’s hit (to the post) was crucial, as a goal making it 2-1 would’ve been great. The exposure would have been great.”

These were Matos’ words after India lost 3-0 to the USA in the opening match of the U-17 FIFA World Cup in New Delhi. India was watching and the man earned a few brownie points. His players had fought, some of them had impressed, while others had shown fair grit. India started to expect from the boys and their fatherly figure, whose words were easy pacifiers after a loss which was not correctly reflected by the scoreline.

India lost to Colombia, but Jeakson scored the nation's first FIFA World Cup goal

India coach Luis Norton de Matos gave the perfect reply to a question, “Is it possible to sleep tonight?” asked by a reporter. “Yes! I will sleep with the sentiment that my players played a fantastic game.” Hope and pride, written all over it.

Jeakson Singh the first Indian to score a FIFA World Cup goal under Matos' regime

Rahul Kannoly Praveen disturbed the woodwork and Jeakson Singh scored. India slept in peace, harping more on the maiden goal than the quashed dream of moving to the next round. Aren’t we ‘find-happiness-where-you-find-it’ kind of people?

Matos laid bare a fault of his own side. “After scoring the first goal it was like a dream and we lost our concentration because it was just a minute after scoring a goal. If it was after four-five minutes then the situation would have been different and it would have been a 1-1 draw. Though, we have lost today, they have fantastic future coming ahead.” No one, though, cared to dwell on this.

India crashing out of the World Cup in abysmal fashion

Then came reality, that gatecrashed parties. India were swept aside 4-0 by Ghana, on a night football cried in the country. Matos entered the press room and it boomed, with blames flying all over. (None of them arguably wrong, though. But were they in the right context?)

“The teams of the ISL, when they go to Europe to play, they lose to fourth division teams in Spain,” he said. “This is the reality,” he also stated. (sic. Why?)

“After two hard games at this level, we said it will be very complicated to play against a team with the level of Ghana,” said the Portuguese coach to the reporters. (Realisation, probably a little late).


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India’s qualification campaign for the U-19 AFC Championships

A month after the World Cup - debacle or success you decide, the India U-17 and U-19 teams were merged together, with De Matos given the helm. This team travelled to Jordan and played their first match on November 4, a 5-0 defeat against Saudi Arabia. 

The other two games were relatively better – a goalless draw against Yemen and a 3-0 win against Turkmenistan. They returned home heads held high, but without qualification. Less time for the World Cup experience to sync in, the man said. India agreed.

Indian Arrows in the 2017-18 I-League

The AIFF re-started the Arrows project, with Matos spearheading the same. During the post-match conference after the World Cup game against Ghana, he had made it particularly clear that he would like to be part of the project. The wish was granted by President Praful Patel, and the frail 17-year-olds were taking on the robust Alfred Jaryans and William Opoku Asiedus of this world on preparatory grounds.

The manager, in the first place, stated that not much should be expected of the side. Fair enough. He also outrightly asked opponents to be physically recessive, and that was not to happen. Injuries became the order of the day and the man had to continue to rotate his side like UNO cards on a deck.

There were flashes of brilliance, though. Rahul KP against Mumbai City FC, Nongdamba Naorem against Shillong Lajong and captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam in most games showed that they had the ability. They needed time and grooming. The side ended at the bottom of the table, as predicted.

Whoever takes the hot-seat next needs to have a clearer path and a clearer mind. The Fatherly-figure should go out the window, not the compassion though and a hard taskmaster needs to be given the reins. These players need to slog it out, not be happy in their zones and playing roles they like to.

Khel Now wishes De Matos all the health, personal and professional happiness and more.

Published: Mon Jul 23, 2018 12:34 PM IST


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