It has finally happened. India’s most successful coach, Armando Agnelo Colaco, has finally been appointed as the coach of the Indian national team for an initial period of four months. According to the AIFF Executive Committee that met on Friday, Armando has been appointed as interim coach and will be in the hot seat for the two friendlies against Maldives and Qatar on the 10th and 17th of July before guiding India’s fortunes in the World Cup qualifier against UAE on the 23rd of July, followed by the return leg on the 28th of July in New Delhi.
It has been a long wait for the astute coach from Goa. After the ill-tempered parting of Bob Houghton and many cases of player outbursts on twitter and facebook, Armando will have a tough task on his hands. His first job will be to get the players together and start afresh. The Goan though, who is also an AFC/FIFA Instructor, is no stranger to adversity.
About a decade ago, when his beloved Dempo Sports Club were down in the dumps and relegated from the League, Chairman Shrinivas Dempo put up his hands in defeat and decided to disband the team. However, after some persuasion from Dempo’s staunchest supporters he decided to give it one last try; and Armando was entrusted with the responsibility of bringing Dempo to where they belong today. And he did it in style, not only bringing them up but handing Shrinivas’s Dempo an incredible four National League titles, two Super Cups, a Federation Cup and a cherished semi-final appearance in the AFC Cup.
Over the 12 odd years that he has been at the helm of affairs at Dempo, Colaco has built an army of fighters who wore the blue jersey with pride and played their hearts out every game. They passed the ball, made dazzling moves, created space by making off the ball runs and kept the ball as if their life depended on it. The way they passed the ball, moved like skilled dancers and tore the meanest of defenses to shreds has been an absolute treat to watch. And the result is there for all to see.
Dempo’s possession football and passing game – the hallmark of their play has brought them unprecedented success. Armando Colaco was the man who changed the scene of Indian football. He instilled the value of ball possession in the players and taught them a style of play that is best seen at Barcelona, today – moving in triangles, playing off the ball and continuously making runs to create the space. While long balls were struck off the Dempo tactical menu, shot passing and possession play was encouraged and the result was that fans thronged every Dempo game to see India’s Barcelona in action.
Never before in India’s club football history had a team played such enthralling football and dominated the football scene. And as he takes over the national team, he knows the recipe for success- hardwork and patience. There was nothing new that he brought to the football pitch. He just did the basics right and made his players at Dempo enjoy the game.
Things will not be as easy for him, though. He has inherited a team that is at its lowest in terms of confidence; some of the players are past their prime. The basics of football are lacking and most of the players have been taught to play the long ball even in their sleep. That slowly has to change and Armando will need plenty of time to change the system. He first needs to get together a pool of players who he feels will play for India for the next five years. Then, slowly and gradually build on a style of play- something similar to what he has done at Dempo. It won’t be easy and it will take plenty of time, but he knows it’s his best chance of achieving success internationally. “I am looking at a longer stint with the national team. The 2014 World Cup qualifiers against UAE is certainly a herculean task with regards to changing the style of play as they have playing the long ball method for far too long,” Colaco commented soon after his appointment.
The AIFF though will have to give him time and all the facilities and the support that was given to Bob Houghton. He needs to be given the autonomy to take decisions and to choose his own team. Colaco will also have the support of his fellow Goans- Marcus Pacheco and Savio Medeira to assist him. A period of four months is too short a time for him to change the system and he needs to be given at least three years. Tathagata Mukerjee, Director on National Teams has said that India will possibly play some more friendlies at home and that is a welcome sign as Colaco builds his team and tries out different players and combinations. “It will be a tough game for the team. Don’t expect miracles from me overnight. We need time to build the team,” said Colaco from Goa.
He need not look far for players. Five of the national team players – Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda, Mahesh Gawli, Samir Naik and Anthony Pereira – played for Dempo under him and understand his style of play and philosophy. Sunil Chhetri and Anwar Ali played under him for a year as well and are expected to adjust without much fuss. Players like Lalrindika Ralte, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Raju Gaekwad from Indian Arrows are ready to make the cut to the national grade and versatile players like Joaquim Abranches, Syed Rahim Nabi and Mehrajuddin Wadoo will always come in handy. Colaco, probably, has his team in mind already and strategies and formations already chalked out.
His first big test will be against 113th ranked UAE, whom India beat in 2001 at Bangalore under Sukhwinder Singh. The goal scorer on that day was another of his pupils – Jules Alberto Dias. If India win against UAE over the two legs, they will play the next round of qualifiers before making it to the group stage.
A place in the group stage will look a tough task but Armando knows that a start has to be made somewhere. A system has to be put in place even if India doesn’t make it far in the qualifiers. He needs to be given time and the AIFF must have faith in him and give him all the resources. We have experimented for far too long. It’s time we stick to a plan and die for it until is succeeds.
There’s no doubting, though, that the AIFF have got a competent and proven performer. All he needs is a little support, patience and backing. As time passes and as the sun sets on each of his training sessions, he will have one thing to say to his wards -“Keep the ball like your life depends on it”. He has been immense on the domestic level. Could he now turn on the style, internationally?
The AIFF has taken another gamble, and perhaps, this time, they couldn’t have placed their bets on a better man. For many years, Armando Colaco has been Dempo’s Special One.
Could he, now, become India’s Special One?