They may have qualified for the final of the Santosh Trophy after a gap of forty years but the Tamil Nadu players don’t seem to live in this era. Barely minutes after their hard-earned semifinal victory against Manipur, they seemed to go back to the Stone Age. If not motionless, expressionless!
Coach Sabir Pasha turned to his boys and smiled. On the Dinner table, his wards were just going through the motions.
“This is the first time they have moved out of Tamil Nadu to play. This is the first time they are getting some exposure. This is the first tournament for most of them,” Pasha quips. You look at the players once again. Heads down, eyes on the plate, the only movement was from their hand to mouth. And then, you found it hard to even spot the chewing.
Pasha prefers to run around. Arranging for the ice-bath, co-ordinating for the evening stretching session, query about water bottles reaching the players, laundry, food, and other minute details. Everything in the Tamil Nadu camp seems to be well-oiled — everything has to be just perfect.
Though he stays more than a thousand miles away, you cannot undermine his presence in the Tamil Nadu set-up, the presence of Colm Joseph Toal, Head Coach, Youth Development. “Call me a shadow of Colm,” Pasha quips. “He has nurtured me as a coach. Before working with him, I wasn’t sure of what to do. But he has fine-tuned me,” Pasha, who has worked as an assistant to Colm for age-group National Teams, adds.
“I did speak to him after our semifinal victory. Colm said: ‘Carry on the good work.’ He will never discourage his student. Never!”
This is Tamil Nadu’s 2nd entry to the final, the earlier one being forty years back. For Services, who have been Champions in 1960/61, the last entry to final was in 2007/08.
“Services are a much better side than us,” Pasha comes back to the final. “They have prepared long for his tournament. If you pit the players of both the sides on a one-to-one basis, Services will win with ease. They surely stay the favourites,” Pasha maintains.
“You just cannot compare both the sides. We are amateurs. If we don’t stay organised against them, we will be whipped. They attack fast and come hard at you. They enjoy an edge.”
Services coach V Sajith Kumar smiles. “We will miss our goalkeeper Nanao Singh who is out for a double booking. The semifinal against Kerala has been our best match in the tournament so far,” he informs. “A final is a final. We will stick to the strategy and go all out from the start. Though Tamil Nadu looks an organised side, we intend to attack.”
Interestingly, Pasha contradicts Sajith. “Most of our boys stay unaware of what a final is. They have never reached this far,” he goes on.
Can Tamil Nadu topple the Services applecart? Pasha’s eyes stay fixed. “We need to maintain our Shape. Let us enjoy and play well,” so much reminiscent of what Colm says.
You turn to the boys again. This time they are moving – up from their tables and proceeding towards their respective rooms.
The kick-off is at 18.00 IST and the match will be telecast live on DD Sports.
(AIFF Press Release / Written by Nilanjan Datta)