The recent mud slinging match between India’s football coach Bob Houghton and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had me thinking.
What is that makes a good coach? Can a foreign coach be as effective as a home grown one? A good coach, in my opinion, requires, in addition to technical knowledge, the ability to understand the players, suss out the players’ strengths and weaknesses and find ways of building on the strengths and plugging the weaknesses. Understanding another individual becomes undoubtedly easier if one belongs to the same culture, speaks the same language and eats similar food. Assuming a local coach has the same amount of technical expertise as a foreigner, the local is bound to do a much better coaching job. Why then do teams put in so much effort to hire foreign coaches? Usually it is for their technical expertise.
Think of successful coaches and the following names immediately come to my mind.
• O.M Nambiar who coached P.T. Usha
• Béla Károlyi who coached Nadia Comaneci
• Ramakant Achrekar who coached Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli and a number of other young cricketers in Mumbai
• Eric Arnold, who coached Kajan Singh
• Arsène Wenger who has coached Arsenal since 1996
• José Mourinho who once coached Chelsea and now coaches Real Madrid
Think of infamous or unsuccessful coaches and, in addition to Bob Houghton, Kapil Dev, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello’s names comes to my mind. Kapil Dev survived for less than a year and was hit by match-fixing allegations during that period. Sven-Goran Eriksson was the first foreigner to coach the English football team. He did a decent job, but the English team always faltered towards the end, be it the 2002 or the 2006 World Cups or the 2004 Euro Cup. His successor Fabio Capello has not done even half as well, so far at least.
I personally think that in football a foreign coach can never be as effective as a local man. In the most recent world cup, Maradona coached the Argentine team and seemed to do a pretty good job despite some routine tantrums and outbursts. No foreign coach would have done as good a job as Nambiar did with P.T. Usha or Karolyi did with Nadia Comaneci. I feel that Nambiar and Karolyi were so successful because they understood their wards very well, much better than any foreign coach could ever hope to. Eric Arnold enjoyed some success, but Kajan Singh never won an Olympic medal. Arsène Wenger and José Mourinho are foreigners alright, but they coach club teams which are composed of mercenary foreign players from all over the world.
Syed Abdul Rahim was India’s football coach from 1950–1962 and under him India was the best Asian football team. In 1962, India won the gold medal at the Jakarta Asian Games, a feat which has never been repeated since then. After 1962, it has been downhill all the way for Indian football. After Rahim’s departure, India hired a number of foreign coaches for its football team (who alternated with Indian coaches) with mixed results. Harry Wright, an English coach came after Rahim and he lasted for just a year. There was Robert Bootland who coached a number of Goan clubs before and after serving as India’s football coach. Former Red Star Belgrade’s coach Ciric Milovan did a good job for India. Under Milovan, India qualified for the Asian cup in 1984, but failed to deliver at the main games. Rustom Akhramov (from Uzbekhstan) was by all accounts a disaster and lasted just over a year. Stephen Constantine enjoyed some success and he served for almost 4 years. And now, we have Bob Houghton.
In my opinion, and I say this keeping in mind Fabio Capello’s performance in the last World Cup, India’s football team ought to have an Indian coach. In football, the team’s cohesiveness is much more important than in a game like cricket. A coach should be able to understand the players so well that he is able to select the right team and not just the best players. A local man will be able to sniff out underlying tensions, jealousies, grudges and other silent undercurrents much better than an outsider. An Indian will also be able to play the patriotism card much better. Of course, there will be instances where foreign technical know-how will be required and these can be addressed by sending the coach overseas for some training.