Image Credits: FISTO STAFF
Clearly relishing the challenges of her new role, the 38-year-old coach, a former Kerala State Football Association, Quartz FC, Calicut and Indira Gandhi Football Academy assistant coach made time for a chat with us.
Please give us a brief introduction about yourself both as a player and as a coach. Could you tell us more about your background, what fuelled your passion for football?
My father was a football player. I grew up watching him play and that's how I started playing football in school and it slowly became my passion. He inspired me to do well and gave me the nudge to play football at professional level. I was a central midfielder during my playing days. I played for the Kerala side, the women’s game is not yet as popular with the general public as we’d like now, but I played.
I’m very thankful that Kerala State Football Association took me in as a youth coach three years ago. They helped me take my first steps in elite coaching and helped me see and experience top-level football. Well, when I finished my degree in Sports Management, started to look for a full-time job straightaway. Even though I played football and had a AFC B coaching license, making a living from playing or coaching wasn’t an option in India at the time. So I managed to get some work experience placement within the national-age group section and after that the opportunity to join the Kerala Football Association came along.
Things have really picked up since 2012, thanks to the help provided by the Kerala State Football Association through their Women’s Football Development Programme.
Did you face any difficulties when making coaching your career in football?
One won’t be able to reach the destination without crossing the milestones. Yeah, I did face hurdles but the support was always there. Being the sole lady in many a Coaching Course, I always got support from and they have been helpful all throughout. I got to learn a lot from them.
When did you realize you had a talent for coaching and who or what influenced your decision to become a coach, do you have any role models who continue to inspire you?
As a woman footballer, I wanted to help in any way I could to develop the women’s game in the country. Reginald Varghese is the one who motivated me to take up the coaching career. She would easily guess what a player would become in the future and what field exactly. G.D. Malhotra sir (Patiala Chief Coach), is another figure who helped shaping my coaching ideology. Both of them helped me take my first steps in elite coaching in and helped me see and experience top-level football.
I completed my AIFF C license in 2009 and finished B license in 2017, though it was 10 years gap but I stayed within the coaching field. In 2016, I was offered a position of Assistant Coach of Quartz FC, before moving to Calicut and then Indira Gandhi Football Academy in 2018. I had no previous experience as a head coach of a professional team before joining Sethu FC and decided to take the opportunity head-on and learn along the way! I am very grateful that the Sethu FC took the risk and hired me — it is an absolute honour.
How easy was it to make the transition from player to coach, how valuable were your previous experiences to make the move easier?
My previous experiences helped, as I could reflect back on my time as a player and better lead my players into competition. I knew what it felt like to, for example, being a women playing professional football and deal with pressure —I had been in most of the same situations the players had already faced or would face during this tournament, and it helped me prepare the team to better overcome these obstacles.
How well did you know your Group II opponents Manipur Police Sports Club, Bangalore United Football Club, CRPF Women’s Football Team, SAI-STC Cuttack, FC Kolhapur City and Baroda Football Academy ahead of the tournament?
Yes, it will be a tough group. You cannot underestimate any team in the tournament, but I think all our six group teams are pretty tough, to be honest.
We watched and analysed game from each team’s games and created a game plan for each—we were primarily focused on our team’s performance, while the game plan included the weaknesses and strengths of the opponents and how it matched the strengths of our team and which of our principles we would need to pay special attention to. It was all about finding solutions. And we’ll start off with Manipur Police Sports Academy, one of the best team. Nevertheless, ultimately it’s a good opener for us because we’ll have to give it our all right from the start. How would you describe yourself as a coach and what playing style are you hoping to achieve with Sethu FC this season? How would you describe your coaching style? My coaching style will vary according to the team I am working with, but in general I promote creating a positive environment where the players want to learn and improve. As for our style of play, I used to say I wanted my team to look like a combination of Barcelona and Manchester City as Pep Guardiola is one of my favorite coach, I have always admired his style of possession based attacking football. I also used to love watching Frank Lampard and Andres Iniesta, who in my opinion are two greatest midfielder of our generation. Iniesta’s combination with Messi is something else, often makes you go Wow. But here, you cannot build a team like FC Barcelona, but at least you can take inspiration from them and build something relatable with Sethu FC. And I also believe that seeing and getting to know the players as people first is critical. And finally, I believe in the importance of getting out of comfort zones and the value of giving full effort to succeed. What is your take on the youth developments and grassroots foundation in Sethu FC? It is both a wonderful discovery and a source of great pride to be here and represent the Tamil Nadu team. We know that Tamil Nadu is one of the emerging as top football state and we have to show it on the pitch. I see Sethu FC as one of the pioneer of women’s club giving importance to the growth and development of women’s football in the country and beautifully organized as well. Normally for the girls from Southern part of India are not technically sound, but the club doing to change that and promote women’s football by providing free education and camps at the grassroots level. In 10 years of my coaching experience, never seen a club that gives importance to the growth of women’s football as much as Sethu FC does. Players like Sandhya and Pavithra are few examples, who will shine in this year IWL. The club also gives importance to each individuals and look closely at their career. What's your expectation for the team this season? This season we have signed top quality players across the state and some international players as well. It is a perfect mix of local and foreign and other state players who’s ready to give their all to lift the title this season Indian Women’s League. We have to set our minds on the competition right from the start. We know the competition will be really tough, the level is not up to the mark of Men’s football but with right education and development we will get there. We have to find a way to succeed, remain humble and show ambition in these group games. Any player to watch out for Sethu FC this season? Sandhya, Malavika and Pavithra – all of them are playing at highest level as equate to the likes of Sweety Devi and Ashalata Devi. What factors do you feel are vital in helping players make the jump from youth to senior international football? There are many steps from when you start playing football all the way to the senior national team, but I think the last step is the biggest. In terms of physicality, for instance, the difference between youth and senior football is huge – you need to do so much more physical training to be able to cope. You also need to play an awful lot of matches at the highest level, both for club and country, to really get used to it. This is where we can have problems in India, because we don’t have proper grassroots infrastructure to compete at the professional level for a long time. So our best U-19 players might all be at proper-run club but they don’t play every week. Who is your favourite international footballer, and coach? Anas Edathodika and Pep Guardiola. What’s your view on the women’s game in general, how has it progressed since your first involvement and what needs to be done to improve it further? There were not many tournaments for women’s football. Only the Senior Nationals, which was also stopped after 2011 for three years. So, the three years was complete dead for the women’s football scene in the nation. Then in 2016, they restarted the Senior Nationals. Now we have officials supporting women’s football; Maymol Rocky and Chaoba Devi has been doing a fantastic job taking the women’s football to next level. The recent Spain tour, Turkish Cup, SAFF Cup and Olympic Qualifier performance has been nothing short of extraordinary. I have been with age-group national teams for a number of years and I can say that these girls (at the Junior Girls' NFC) are better. The current generation has improved a lot – for example, many players have shown that they are apt at using both feet. The coach will have a lot to work upon but there have certainly been a lot of positive signs. Indumathi has had a quite a breakthrough national experience this year. How valuable is it to have a player of Indumathi calibre within the squad, what positive role does she play both on and off the pitch? Just having Indhumathi and her experience alone is huge for us here in Sethu FC. Not only is she one of the best players in India at the moment, but she is a true pro in every sense of the word. Her discipline off the field with her fitness and nutrition all of these things are great for our young players to observe and learn from. What do you see for the future of women’s football in Tamil Nadu? There was a time when Kerala, Manipur, Bengal and Goa all the state used to win most of the football’s biggest prizes in the nation. But in the last five years, Tamil Nadu has shown some tremendous improvement that they can compete at the level of the others. Tamil Nadu was 2018 Junior and Senior National Championship winners. Himachal Pradesh won this year the Junior Nationals that shows how the game has evolved over the years. Three months ago, I went to Bhubaneswar where the national camp was held and selected the players. I have a good relationship with Chaoba Devi, the Indian team’s Assistant Coach; she was very helpful in our team getting the national players. Finally, what personal aims have you set yourself for the future? As for my own career, I have fluctuated quite a bit over the past few years on whether I want to work in youth development or work my way up to the professional level. After this experience, I have decided that I will work towards the latter and get into the senior women’s game. Whether that means that I work as an assistant for a women’s team or work in Youth Football and make my way up, I do not know yet. All I know is that I will continue to learn from as many people as possible and not allow myself to get comfortable.
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