Pradyum Reddy: the youth scout-manager who redefined Indian football
Written by: Mrunal Nakashe
The former Bengaluru FC assistant manager has been one of their mainstays and key reasons for their unmatched success in Indian football. . .
In a parallel universe, Pradyum Reddy would've been a sought-after youth scout in Europe unearthing the Ronaldos and the Messis. Sadly and happily for Indian football, the man wants to develop the game in India. Working as an assistant manager and youth-talent expert, Pradyum has created a niche for himself.
Tell us a bit about your background: footballing and otherwise.
I grew up in the UK, where I had my 1st footballing experiences, before moving to India at the age of 6. I moved back to the UK at the age 16 for higher education and harbouring dreams of playing professional football in the UK.
It’s when I first noticed the gulf in difference between being a good footballer in India and the UK.
The realisation that that by 16, we were probably 4 to 6 years behind in terms of development as players, it inspired me to look at how one could address this issue.
Whilst at University studying Economics & Japanese, a life-threatening disease caused me to introspect about my future; I realised the burning desire to be working in the football industry was far greater than moving into finance, and hence the shift in career choice!
I enrolled on the FA Coaching Certificate (UEFA B part 1 as it was called back then) in 1999 and set upon the path to coaching.
How did you get into Football in India? How was the initial experience with Leapstart & then winning the Division 2 with Shillong Lajong going on to play the I-League?
Having returned to Bangalore after 16 years, I found there had been some improvements in the football ecosystem. There were a greater number of after-school programs and summer camps, but they all were fragmented and lacked a clear coaching identity.
Whilst researching for starting my own Academy, I was introduced to the Founder & CEO of Leapstart, their idea of introducing sports based curriculums in schools and training their trainers into how to coach kids was an idea that resonated with me.
I devised a curriculum for kids from Kindergarten to 10th grade and conducted coach education sessions for their coaches.
I’ve recently been to a Leapstart football league were over 200 kids attend each weekend to play matches in an inter-school league.
As most things with youth development are long-term targets, it’s been rewarding to see the program grow, year on year.
Whilst in Mumbai in 2010, I had a chance meeting with the Shillong Lajong FC owner Larsing Ming Sawyan. The team played at Cooperage against Air India, after which I had a long discussion with Ming regarding my plans and desire to work in youth development in Indian football. The SLFC U-15 team had qualified for the Manchester United Premier Cup and was due to travel to the UK at the end of the season. I was invited to work with the SLFC Academy for a week, to gauge the level of their Academy players. The trip also coincided with 2 home games versus Mahindra Utd. and Mumbai FC.
The atmosphere at the stadium on match days, coupled with the passion of the city towards football, made me realise that if one wanted to do some genuine work in Indian football, this was the place to be.
After Lajong’s relegation, I got a call from SLFC, who wanted me to help them with their pre-season preparations. I had initially expected to be there for 2 months but ended up staying for 2 years.
The preparation for the I-League 2nd Division was a fascinating baptism to Indian club football. We knew was that the 2nd Division would take part in April / May of 2011, and we had to find enough competition to keep us prepared for the final round.
We started off with the Bordoloi Cup in Guwahati but had to be replaced by our youth team for the finals, as we had to travel to Silchar for the Federation Cup qualifiers. We scored 7 goals in 2 games as we beat NISA and Oil India.
The relative success in the Cup, and more importantly the style of play, led to a contract extension, and we began to chart out to the path to getting back into the I-League.
This extensive run of cup competitions enabled us to realise the strengths and weaknesses of our squad. We had also managed to give plenty of opportunities for our Indian players to develop, as we were not reliant on any foreign striker (we released 2 foreign strikers in this time)
The success of the team was down to efforts of everyone at the club embracing the new philosophy of professionalism. The players were tested before and after competitions to ensure we were at peak fitness. We initiated recovery sessions & the proper nutrition/hydration before, during & after games.
Pradyum was one of the key reasons for Bengaluru FC's daunting run in Indian football
Bengaluru FC? How did that happen and how was your experience?
I was at DSK Shivajians at the time, building a team of young players that were surplus to requirements at Pailan Arrows and other I-League teams.
I heard of a new team coming up in Bangalore, so I made a presentation outlining how a Club in India should be structured.
Amongst all the coaches that had interviewed, I was the only one who came with a clear vision of how a new Club should be structured, and how to prevent making the mistakes that plague Indian clubs.
I was offered the role immediately and as the 1st person hired at BFC, I set about creating a team that could set the standards for the years to come.
As other I-League teams had already signed players, we had 2 options, breaking the bank to sign established Indian players or opting to take on unknown or forgotten talents.
As I had a core group of young players like Siam Hanghal, Karan Sawhney, Keegan Pereira & Shankar Sampangiraj at DSK who had tremendous potential, we opted to gamble on these players.
The 1st season at BFC was a fantastic experience, working with a professional set up, and alongside a motivated young Head Coach we set about creating the optimal club environment in India football.
The three years I spent at BFC were extremely challenging and apart from the trophies, the development of young players was probably the most satisfying.
Seeing the likes of Siam Hanghal, Shankar Sampangiraj, Kumam Udanta Singh all break into the India U-23 team, as well as seeing Keegan , Chhuantea, Rino , Amrinder all making their Indian debuts during our time was especially pleasing.
Bengaluru FC haven't been able to reproduce the form that has seen them dominate Indian Football in the last three seasons. What must they do from now on till the end of the season to end the season strongly?
BFC seem to have deviated away from the path that brought them all the success in the 1st 3 seasons. If they get back to those basics, they have enough talent and ability in the squad to challenge for the Federation Cup as well as put on another good run in the AFC Cup.
You are known in the Indian Footballing circles as someone whose core strength in addition to Coaching is scouting & focus on youth development. Can you tell us a little about that?
Having an extensive background in working with young players, I always prefer to work with younger players. Coaching to me is about getting out on the ground and seeing the changes you make in players during the course of the season. The differences that can be made with young players is very tangible, and both sides see the progress year by year. The work rate and drive of a lot of these aged players is also infectious and makes for a better coaching environment.
Who/What have your greatest influences in the game of Football been. What do you wake up each morning aspiring to do?
As a kid my I remember walking up at midnight to watch the Mexico ’86 World Cup. Like most, I was mesmerised by Diego Maradona and he was someone I idolised.
After I started my coaching career in 1999, I started to look at football more from a coaching perspective,
I have been extremely fortunate to work alongside with some fantastic youth coaches, coach educators & head coaches. I always try to take something away from these experiences.
I’m quite fortunate that I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. We get up each morning knowing we are going to be involved in shaping a young player's footballing journey.
Pradyum is well known in Indian and US footballing circles for his eye for youth-talent and their grooming
Like Wenger you have an economics background…are you a ‘Moneyball’ fan? Give us some of your favourite player recruitments that made your really proud.
I think the term ‘Moneyball’ has been misused a lot lately in terms of player signings, as it takes the focus away from the reason of signing the player and focuses on the financial aspect of the signing.
There are many players in India that just need the right platform to showcase their talents. Whilst almost all the signings over the past 6 years have made me very proud, as you get to witness players achieve their ambitions.
Kumam Udanta Singh was someone that had been coached by Richard Hood at TFA and I had been tracking him even prior to BFC coming into existence. Being able to sign him, and give him the platform to represent Club and country at the highest level is certainly a proud moment.
That said, having 1st set eyes on Eugeneson Lyngdoh on a rain-soaked pitch in Shillong, to sign him at SLFC, and then bring him to BFC to help us win the Cup and League. His performances over the last 3 years have been a testament to the methods that I have employed.
We’ve heard you talk about some interesting 'out of the box’ youth development programmes, including doing away with residential programmes for kids below a certain age. Talk us through your views there.
The current Residential Academy set-ups are a vast drain on resources and are probably the least efficient way to improve football at youth level in India.
For the costs of housing, feeding, training 22 players over the course of 2-3 years, one could train more than 200 players in a non-residential setup.
Unless we create more competitions (youth leagues) for players, all the training in these residential Academies is of little or now use.
Instead of residential Academies where the kids train every day yet have no competitive games each weekend, I would prefer a non-residential set up with even 3 training sessions a week BUT a mandatory competitive game each weekend.
The kids need to play at least 40 to 50 competitive games a season and not just rely on 250 training sessions and a handful of games.
What are your future plans? What do you see yourself doing in the next couple of seasons?
The next few years I would like to be involved in structuring/restructuring Clubs. There is a huge disconnect between the youth set ups at Clubs and the 1st teams.
None of the professional clubs have a proper Grassroots program. With the AIFF launching a “Baby Leagues” concept, it is an opportunity for a club to initiate leagues and games for players from the age of 5 upwards.
The biggest concern for me is bridging the gap between U-18 graduates and the 1st team.
What in your view would be a Dream project for you to work on?
The dream job is to be involved in a club that has a long term vision on youth development and is willing to invest in Grassroots, in local leagues as well as a Reserve team to incubate 18 to 23-year-olds before they can make the step up to the top league.
What are your views on the current scene in Football both at Elite and Grass-root levels?
At the Elite Level, we are struggling with numerous clubs closing or scaling down their football operations.
When I move to India there were around 40 clubs in the top 2 tiers, so that meant work for around 80 coaches and over 800 players.
With the shortened leagues, and coaches and players sharing time with 2 leagues we have reduced the options for both players & coaches.
This is detrimental to the growth of the game.
I don’t think we even have a scene at the Grassroots to comment on!
Single day or weekend long grassroots festivals just don’t work, that serve more as a photo opportunity and just tick the boxes. They do little or nothing to develop football in India.
5 things Indian Football needs to do to compete at the top level at least in Asia.
If we are to attempt to bridge the gap between us and other Asian counterparts,
- we need to increase the participation at the Grassroot level, there need to be local mini leagues for kids from the ages of 6 to 12
- Local FA’s need to organise football competitions (leagues) for 12 to 16 years olds
- Clubs need to develop their own youth teams and ensure their players play competitive games throughout the year (youth football calendar)
- The top 3 Leagues of India need to last for 8 to 10 months
- CLUBS need to professionalise themselves and not just be content on ticking boxes as per AFC club licensing criteria.
In such a riveting discussion, Pradyum let his heart out talking about Indian football. While he moves on to newer pastures, we wish him all the luck.
Published: Fri Apr 28, 2017 06:55 PM IST