From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.23 :: Jun. 09, 2011

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FOOTBALL / INTERVIEW

Toal's silent revolution

“In 2007, we had a training camp in Germany where our Under-16 team convincingly beat three Bundesliga academy sides. In addition, in 2008, the same team travelled to England and drew 3-3 with Manchester United's Under-16 team. In none of these matches did we feel that the European boys were either technically or tactically better than us,” says Colm Toal, the man in charge of India's junior development programme. By Ayon Sengupta.

K.V. SRINIVASAN

Colm Toal (left) with his wards.“I am happy with the work I am doing and I want to continue doing this for a few more years,” he says.

FIFA repeatedly emphasises on strengthening the youth development setup in every developing football nation. Colm Toal, the man in charge of that mission in India, which is ranked 145 in the world, has ushered in a silent revolution that might provide the impetus to the country's distant footballing dreams.

Under Toal's tutelage the Indian teams (Under-16 and Under-19) have done remarkably well and have made their presence felt in the continent. The teams have qualified for the age-group Asian Championships, humbling more fancied sides such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon.

Unlike the former senior National coach, Robert Houghton of England, Toal has preferred to stay out of the limelight and has concentrated only on the job at hand.

“India has many talented juniors and my job and that of my team has been to unearth them and impart the correct technical knowledge. The emphasis is on the wholesale development of the boys,” said Toal.

“In the last four years, I have been lucky to have worked with a lot of talented youngsters and a support staff who have always been 100 per cent supportive. We have coached boys from all age-groups, from Under-13 to Under-19, and the results have been satisfying. Now we have our boys playing in the National team as well as in many I-League sides,” he said.

Dismissing the myth about the difference in quality between the Indians and their European counterparts, Toal said, “I feel we shouldn't be comparing our boys with their counterparts in Europe or North America. All I can tell you is that in 2007, we had a training camp in Germany where our Under-16 team convincingly beat three Bundesliga academy sides. We beat Stuttgart, 1860 Munich and FC Augsburg by identical 2-0 margins. In addition, in 2008, the same team travelled to England and drew 3-3 with Manchester United's Under-16 team. In none of these matches did we feel that the European boys were either technically or tactically better than us.”

But Toal was quick to admit that the junior development programme had hit a roadblock of sorts. “Just before the 2009 Under-16 Asian qualifiers, 16 of our boys were caught for being over-aged and that affected us deeply. We did put up a spirited show at the qualifiers but the loss was too big to surmount,” he said.

Ready to deal with the problem of over-aged players at the very beginning, the AIFF (All India Football Federation) had made it mandatory for the players to undergo MRI tests before the 2011 camp in Goa. “All the players were thoroughly checked before they were admitted to the programme this year. And I should also add that after the 2009 embarrassment the level of awareness and honesty has increased. We had very few offenders this time round,” Toal said.

With two tough Under-16 and Under-19 qualifying rounds ahead in September and November respectively, Toal has set his sights on doing well at the Asian level again. “Qualifying for the main tournament would be our aim. But we know it won't be an easy ride,” he said. “Our lack of infrastructure is a hindrance for any long-term development. The top 10 Asian countries had set their infrastructure right 40 years ago. We need to bridge that gap as early as possible if we wish to fulfil any of our long-term goals.”

Taking a dig at the “success-only” policy of the I-League clubs, he said: “I don't want to embarrass the I-League clubs, but how many of them have academies or age-group teams. They are gunning for immediate glory but to sustain it in the long term you have to invest in youth. But most clubs here are yet to imbibe that culture.”

Toal, however, dismissed talks of taking over the senior National side, which has an interim coach in Armando Colaco after the premature exit of Houghton. “I am happy with the work I am doing and I want to continue doing this for a few more years,” Toal said.

“Taking over the hot seat has never crossed my mind,” he added.



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