If Indian age-group Teams have been doing well in AFC Competitions in recent-past, much of the credit needs to go to Colm Toal, Head Coach, Youth Development.
As All India Football Federation thanked Colm for his contribution to Indian Youth Development and Indian Football overall, Colm, whose contract ended on April 30, 2014, spoke exclusively to AIFF Media about his experiences, the challenges, the highlights, the roadmap ahead and much more.
How do you look back at your seven-year stint?
I have been incredibly lucky to have been in India for over seven and a half years. In today’s Football environment that is something to feel very proud of. All India Football Federation can take great credit for the support and encouragement they have given me over the years. I hope our Coaches presently in place will also receive the same support in the future.
Where and how would you describe Indian Football in 2014 compared to what you had first seen it in 2007?
I feel the game is in better shape today. There is a greater awareness of what we need to do to catch up with the rest of the Football World than when I arrived in 2007.
What stayed your initial challenges?
Every new job has its own different set of challenges. The important message for all Coaches is to give their support staff and Players the confidence and create a positive environment where there won’t be any problems, but only solutions.
What stay the highlights during your period?
Every International match was a highlight for me, the coaching staff and the Players. It is an honour and a privilege to be the Coach of a National Team. The playing of the National Anthem before an International match is a special moment for all Coaches and Players.
How do you describe the new breed of Coaches who have evolved and learnt under you?
We have had a group of Coaches in our National Team Programme who, I feel, could Coach anywhere in the World. We do not have enough of them but the Coach Education Programme that Robert Baan and Scott O’Donell have put in place will hopefully, in time, produce the numbers of well qualified Coaches any serious Football playing Country needs.
When you first took over in 2007, the YDP in India had just been officially launched. How much of it has gathered momentum in the last seven years?
The money that has been invested have given us the opportunity to expand and improve our Junior National Teams. We have gone from four-month long Camps to year-long Regional Academies in the U-14, U-15, U-16 and U-19 Categories. This development will help our Junior Teams and of course, our Senior National Team enormously in the future.
What are the biggest roadblocks in India as far as YDP is concerned?
Our Junior National Tournaments have a long and rich history and our Junior National Teams are chosen from these Tournaments. We need our State Associations to show them more respect by selecting and preparing their best Players for these Competitions.
In such a case, our National Selectors would be able to see our best Young Players at these Tournaments, and our Regional Academies and Junior National Teams would improve accordingly.
Over the Years you have specifically stressed in the problem of age-fraud. How far has it been rectified?
The problem has not been eradicated. However, we have become better at understanding the MRI guidelines laid down by FIFA and the AFC.
Under your tutelage, India have qualified twice for the AFC U-16 Final Phase. What should be the next realistic step which we should target? When do you feel we can achieve it?
We have always said that development at Junior level is more important than results. However, of course, winning is important and I hope we can do more of that at U-19, U-23 and Senior level in the future. If we can continue to remain competitive in the short term we will still develop young Players who can make a meaningful contribution to their I-League Clubs and our National Team.
How much of an impact has the Regional Academies had in the last couple of years?
The AIFF Regional Academies will have an enormous impact on the quality of our National Youth Development Programme. With our best young Players training and playing every day around the calendar year, we cannot help but get better. I would just like to see this domestic Programme complemented with a good International Programme because our experience tells us it’s in the International Camps and Matches where our boys improve the most.
With the AIFF now going strict on the Club Licensing Criteria, do you feel that the Clubs are now doing a lot more on the Youth Development front than what they used say a couple of years back?
Yes, and it is good to see a number of I-League Clubs taking seriously their obligation to improving their Clubs and the overall game in India. This has not always been the case.
(Interview & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)