Image Credits: Fisto staff
Sathish Kumar continues his tenure as the most creative and successful football coach in Jeppiaar Engineering College, Chennai. He has led the team to a pair of all-India tournaments as well as four times Anna University’s Zonal Trophy Champions and three consecutive Anna University triumphs.
Sathish Kumar is now in his fourth year as a head football coach talks to Fisto Sports about his journey as well as his thoughts on the development of the modern football in today's game, his coaching philosophy and more.
Growing up in Thanjavur, Sathish started playing football from the age of 6 followed in his elder brother’s footstep with the desire of being a professional footballer. Sathish had a promising start to his professional career, when he played National sub-juniors and also attended couple of National Camp at the tender age of 12. Sathish’s breakthrough moment came in the year of 1999 after playing a sequence of good performance in junior nationals; which got the attention of Sports Authority of India (SAI), where he was selected to play under IK Unni and since then there’s no looking back.
His playing career also included three years in the Chennai Customs and a stint as a starting defender for Indian Bank team (which was listed under I-league back then) and first division football with Viva Kerala in the I-league before returning back to Indian Bank. After not getting a call to play, he moved to Annamalai University where he played for eight years.
After years of playing Indian football’s toughest division, he attended numbers of coaching camp, also finished his Bachelors and Masters degree in Physical Education, he now found himself trying to make the same transition. In the year of 2014, when Jeppiaar, looking for their football head coach, came calling. Sathish was in Thanjavur at the time, but was ready to switch fields and had applied to many other sports teams. So many, in fact, that he forgot about Jeppiaar until he received the call. “During that time, I was taking summer camp in Thanjavur for two years, one of my students approached me by saying that there’s an offer for football coaching in Jeppiaar. I came here for the interview and liked the project and been here since 2014,” he added. No stranger to success, he looked forward to continuing his winning ways as a member of Jeppiaar Engineering College. "It has been a big adjustment since I started coaching as you get accustomed to the different things that happen in a major college program," said Sathish. Since 2014, Sathish made sure his team always came ready to play. During his four years as head coach, he led his team to multiple major tournaments win, including an unbeaten run in the year of 2014. He names his school coach Vincent de Paul as one of the main source of inspiration when it comes to coaching. “Most of successful football players from Thanjavur who made it to the next level were played under him.”
The same resemble in his team style of play which ‘scoring goals and defend better from conceding goals.” Further explaining his philosophy of football, he says “Our way of attacking — not only focused on the center of the pitch, it is all about team movement — we press our opponents immediately after losing the ball and retain possession by creating superiorities on the middle of the pitch… At a certain point it will look like all happens naturally.”
“There was a time; I didn’t feel like we were going to lose a match again. That’s not the same as winning everything, but the feeling in the team was good. We scored so many goals, created so many chances.” Sometimes I tend to indoctrinate during the match, I am very clear about how I want my team to attack. Most of the Anna University tournaments is 25 minutes for each half, so to win the game, we have to start the game in attack and attack. “But of course, I can be very sure about something, but in practice it can sometimes require an adjustment. I want to play with a lot of movement in my team. I don’t like fixed formations, but if I have to choose, a 4–4–2 and sometimes it change according to the game – with wingers being the forwards, a square in midfield and two defenders are the ideal formations for me.” One of the greatest compliments he could get is – “In all four years, since I took over the coaching job, all the team we have faced took a step back and play defensive football, even top teams.”
Success story of Pandiyan
Sathish has spent his entire coaching career in Jeppiaar and developed a number of players but he takes pride from Sinivasan Pandiyan, who is currently playing for Indian Super League club Chennaiyin FC.
Pandiyan, who also hails from Thanjavur, emerged as the player who he is today under his tutelage when he was studying second year at Jeppiaar. Pandiyan had played in 17 matches for Chennai City, starting 16, while playing a pivotal role for the club from midfield and forming a partnership with Michael Soosairaj, who is now enjoying his stint at Jamshedpur FC. After a sole season in Chennai City FC, Pandiyan took another step forward, this time signing for reigning champion Chennaiyin FC following an impressive performance in the second half of the season.
On player-coach bonds
When asked about what kind of qualities he looks at player during selection trials, Sathish responds by saying, “Some players would be great but on the pitch they don’t deliver much by feeling anxious. In that case, we have to talk to the players more while they are playing, we have to give them options and awareness play which I believe that would add some additional boost to them to play better.” True to that, Sathish constantly works with the players during practice and helps them with almost any facet of the game. Often like another teammate, Sathish becomes very involved in practice, motivating the players through his own hard work. In the end, working up a sweat not only helps the team members improve, it also serves to create an even stronger family environment. "I really enjoy being able to get on the pitch with them, and interact with the players by playing. I really think that helps in your player-coach relations when you are able to get out there and do the drills with them," said Sathish. He has been a successful in Tamil Nadu, but when asked ‘If you decide go up North and take a tough opponent who place would you choose?” He replies nonchalantly “Playing in Kolkata is very tough as all the matches we played up in North was mostly ended in a stalemate (Delhi and Mumbai) but felt short against Kolkata as we missed several key players at that time.”
Sathish Kumar is in his fourth year as a head football coach and some of the winning numbers that Jeppiaat won under his reign has been staggering. To list a few, Jeppiaar are the Anna University Champions for past 3 years and Zonal Trophy Winners for Four Consecutive Years and current Chennai Champion of Reliance Foundation Cup which they want to retain this time as well. In addition to his professional coaching experience, he wants to hold coaching licenses which he thinks important for coaches. “I think that coaching licenses hold great value; it shows that you are willing to invest in yourself and get around other like-minded people. I would like to have one in the distant future and I am working hard to achieve that.” With the success, Sathish has firmly established himself within the state's coaching circles. He remains extremely familiar in Chennai and Tamil Nadu and hopes this will ultimately help the college and Jeppiaar Sports Academy grow. "We have a lot of expectations in the coming year, and we are going to have to work hard to reach those goals," concludes Sathish.
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