It is a curse that seems to relentlessly haunt Indian sports. Whenever we prepare for a major event, something goes wrong that makes us look ridiculous. It happened when we hosted the Afro- Asian Games at the turn of the century, it happened when we hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and it has happened again as we prepare to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup. This time though, the problem is not incomplete stadiums or leaky roofs. It is a new coach who has seven months to prepare India’s U-17 team for the tournament. Portugal international Luis Norton de Matos, installed in the wake of Nicolai Adam’s acrimonious departure, helmed his fi rst training session in Goa on Saturday.
But seven months is too little to have an impact on any football team, let alone a bunch of 16-year-olds preparing for the biggest tournament India has been involved in. De Matos will tear up every plan Adam had put in place and start afresh. The kids have rigorously trained in Adam’s German way of playing. De Matos will have other ideas. An exposure trip to South Africa the boys were supposed to go on this month was cancelled. Like the trip, many other plans will be changed to suit De Matos’s needs.
Another challenge for De Matos will be communication. Adam, in his last two years, managed to put across his ideas to the kids with ease. By the time De Matos gets to know them, their strengths and weaknesses and fi gures out how they need to be handled, the tourney would have begun. No one expects India to even win a game at the World Cup, but the hope for these boys is much bigger than that. They were supposed to be the bridge between Indian football’s abysmal past and a brighter future, the team that would at least see us compete on the continental level, if not qualify for World Cups. But all that is in doubt now as the team is caught between two coaches. Too many cooks spoil the broth. How spoilt is our U-17 team? Only time will tell.