Speak of Youth Development in India and Colm Joseph Toal stays omnipresent.
The ‘Father Figure’ has been at the helm of the National Training Centre in Goa having guided the Indian U-16 National Team to two successive U-16 AFC Final Phases. It just doesn’t end there. Six of his boys have already made their debut for the Senior India squad with over 27 having represented India in the U-22 and the Olympic Qualifiers. More wait in the wings.
Presently in charge of the U-19 National Team training at the Elite Academy in Goa, Toal, in an exclusive interview to AIFF Media speaks about his experience in India, the forthcoming U-19 AFC Qualifiers, problems surrounding Indian Football and much more.
What stays your point of focus at the moment?
My point of focus is, as it always has been, to produce a good, competitive Indian Team. Young players will never improve if they are playing in a poor team.
The U-19 national squad is presently Training under you at the Elite Academy in Goa. How did your zero down on the present set of boys?
The present U-19 squad has been chosen from our 2012 U-16 Indian National Team squad which qualified for the AFC Final Phase in Tehran 2012. The squad had earlier qualified for the Final Phase from the AFC Qualifiers which were held in Tashkent in Uzbekistan in 2011. Our 2012 U-17 squad has been training together in Goa since last year.
Is there any Technical Difference between the National Training Centre and the Elite Academy?
The National Training Centre in Goa was inaugurated in 2008 by the then All India Football President Mr. Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi. All our U-14, U-16 and U-19 National Teams have been based there since its inauguration. The boys live there and go to School from there. At the moment it is our U-19 Elite Academy and the National Team is based at there.
India have been Clubbed with Uzbekistan, Qatar, Turkmenistan and Nepal in Group A. Given the fact that most of the boys are from the U-16 National batch which qualified for the AFC U-16 Final Phase, where do you see India in the Qualifiers?
We have been drawn in a very difficult group and our chance of Qualifying has been made harder by the AFC changing the format. Under the new format only the winners of each Group gain automatic Qualification to the next year’s Finals.
Looking back how much proud are you over the set of boys that have passed out of your hands?
We are very pleased for all the boys who have gone on and played in the I-League or represented India at U-22, Olympic or the National Team level. However, I know that many more deserving boys could have gone on to gain the success they deserved only if the structure of our game and the support system for young players in our Clubs were much better.
You have been associated with Indian Football for long. What progress have you seen during your tenure?
The best decision we have made during my time here was the introduction of our own Developmental Team to the I-League in 2010-2011. It really helped our U-19 National Team players to bridge the gap between leaving the National Team Programme and playing in the I-League. The initial season was a resounding success with our Young Team finishing in 9th place with 29 points. 10 boys of the Team are picked in Armando Colaco’s World Cup Squad and six from the Group made their debut for India.
Unfortunately, those standards were not maintained in the following two seasons.
Is it easier to strike a psychological chord with Youth Footballers than senior Pros?
I think it is very important to strike a psychological chord with whichever age-group you are Coaching. Players of all-age groups will respond positively to any coach they feel will help them become better individually and help their team win more Football matches.
Is scouting Talent in such a big country as India a problem?
Finding our best Players has always been a problem for our Indian National Team. I feel our State Associations have to take more responsibility in identifying and selecting the best Players in their respective States. They then need to spend more time Coaching and preparing their teams for the National Tournaments from which we select our National Youth Teams.
The Cola-Cola U-16 National Championship and the Dr. B.C Roy Tournament are Competitions with a long and rich history in Indian Football. The State Associations need to send their best squad to such Tournaments for the betterment of the sport in the Country.
What is the biggest bane in India as far as Youth Development is concerned?
Obviously the problem of age-group cheating continues to be a concern even though I feel we are improving in this area. Overall the problem goes a lot deeper and we need to get the State Associations to follow the Youth Development Programme which has been laid out in Robert Baan’s Master Plan.
How long will it take for India to be competitive against seasoned teams like Iran, Uzbekistan, and Japan amongst others (at the Senior level) at the AFC stage?
I think everyone realises that Indian Football is at the cross-roads. Robert Baan has produced an excellent plan that outlines a way forward for Indian Football that will allow us, eventually, to get closer to a South Korea, Japan or Australia. The question is how will we implement it with our limited resources.
We with along with our Commercial Partners IMG-R need to convince the Corporates and the Government to invest in the Developmental Plan so that we can achieve our objectives.
People often refer to you as Colin Toal instead of Colm Toal. How do you react to that?
It is a long story. I will tell you the next time we meet.
(Report & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)