“What is sport besides the physical education you do for yourself? It’s playing together, trying things out, getting better every day, winning together, losing together, helping somebody out. It’s life. It’s totally life, 100 percent,” Johan Cruyff was quoted saying in an interview recently.
On the sidelines of his short visit to Doha to watch the India U-19 national team play the AFC U-19 AFC Qualifiers, Scott O’Donell, (Technical Director, AIFF Academies & AIFF Director of Coach Education), spoke on similar lines.
In an exclusive interview with AIFF Media, Scott spoke at length about the goals achieved, future plans, the significance of the Players choosing the right clubs and much more.
You must be a happy man with the way the AIFF Academies are shaping up?
Yes to a certain extent. We would like to open more Academies but the way our Academies are progressing, it is certainly going in the right direction. The fact that so many young Footballers are living together, training full time, winning and losing together, learning — all in a Footballing environment is amazing and serves the purpose well. The Academies have given them a platform to help them fulfill their potential.
Tell us something about the goals set and achieved?
The first goal was to get the Academies up and running. That’s the reason FIFA asked me to come here and help set up Academies in India. It’s a long term project and development takes time. You don’t have instant results here.
But talking about goals achieved, I think the way our U-16 Academy Boys played in Kuwait in the AFC U-16 Championship is certainly laudable. They have been together for just under a year and if they stick to the philosophy and continue to work hard with the same commitment and discipline, they all have a very bright future.
We are always on the lookout for talented boys who can strengthen our Academies. India is such a vast country that tapping the best Players isn’t always that easy but at AIFF we are at it. Accreditation of the many private Academies is also in our plans.
How important are results in these Tournaments?
When you are playing in tournaments like the AFC Qualifiers results are important. I was disappointed when the U-16 Boys didn’t qualify in Kuwait as they played really well. The boys were obviously disappointed as well. But at the end of the day, we finished third in the Group. It is a learning process and the Team (Coaches and Players) will have learnt a lot from their experience in Dubai and Kuwait.
But at the same time playing such Tournaments is a huge bonus for the Boys at their age. They need to adapt to the different Footballing cultures– Travelling, rigours of a Tournament, the pressure of must-win matches, acclimatising to different climates. These all are important part of their Football Education. So it is important we play more Tournaments like these.
Not only the Players but the Indian Coaches are learning a great deal too.
Are you doing anything to ensure that? Is there any such plan in the pipeline?
We are trying to establish relationships with other Academies in the region so that we can arrange and play in a Regional Academy Tournament. That would be of great help. The problem is that many Federations focus on the Senior National Team at the cost of Youth Development. I am happy that Mr. (Praful) Patel and Mr. Kushal Das are very much committed to Grassroots and Youth Development Programme in India.
You are omnipresent whenever the Academy Boys are taking part in International Competitions. What are the areas you look into?
My main job is to oversee whether philosophy we preach is being implemented in the correct manner or not. I help the Coaches, update them on the curriculum and advise them on team matters. Like in Kuwait I spent time with the Players and Coaches discussing how we are going to play.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with the Elite Academy Boys. Mr. Colm Joseph Toal is in charge of the Boys and he has been in India looking after Youth Development for so many years now.
What would be your advice for these U-19 Boys who will be playing in the I-League in less than a year’s time from now?
The Players should pick the right Club after graduating from the Elite Academy. They need to look at the bigger picture and not just the financial aspects. Clubs like Shillong Lajong and Pune FC I feel have the right kind of philosophy to support these guys. The Players need to be smart and look long term. Like for instance a Striker should look for a Club where there is room for an Indian to have a realistic chance of playing in the starting XI. They also need to be guided by their Parents and Coaches as to what is best for them in the long term.
I know money and reputation will come into the picture but for their own good, they should choose wisely. Here with our Boys who have been with us for a year or two, we try to help them find a place to play Football if they are not taken by any Club. Our job is also to guide the players in the right direction in terms of decision-making.
It’s not just football in an Academy. It’s about life skills too. At the end of the day, even if all these Boys don’t end up being footballers, we try to make sure that they are good human beings.
(Interview & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)