Fresh faces on the block: Harvests of AIFF coaching system
29 Apr 2023

Vaibhav Raghunandan
AIFF Media Team

KOZHIKODE: The age of forty, the French author Victor Hugo, once said, is the old age of youth. When confronted with the idea that he was among a wave of young Indian coaches influencing the game, Odisha FC’s head coach Clifford Miranda, inadvertently appropriated and adapted Hugo’s maxim. “Forty isn’t that young you know,” Miranda laughed. But it is young enough.

As Indian Football attempts to slowly realise its potential and grow in the world game, it has become pertinent to grow the ecosystem that nurtures it. An influx of young coaches, both at the grassroots as well as the pinnacle of Indian Football has become a key rung on which to base a strong ladder. Miranda, the first Indian coach to win the Hero Super Cup is among the elite few who are now in the spotlight, having paid their dues for a long while.

“I think the notion that someone is too young to take up a coaching role has gone now,” Miranda says. “The world is changing. The dynamics of football and coaching are changing. Earlier players would play till they couldn’t and then become coaches, but now you see many young boys training to become coaches, and that’s great. It facilitates the growth of new ideas.”

Case in point is Gokulam Kerala’s head coach Francec Bonet who at 29 years of age, may well be among the youngest coaches to have ever taken charge of a team in the Hero I-League. Bonet started a professional coaching career as a 20-year-old, when he started working with the Catalan outfit FC Martinenc. He went on to work at the Barcelona Academy before making a foray into Indian Football with Rajasthan United, in the 2021-22 Hero I-League season. He took charge of Gokulam in January this year, midway through the club’s topsy-turvy season.

While the hashtag of youth has perpetually followed Bonet’s career, the Spaniard has never let it be an impediment in the way he works, choosing instead to use it to his advantage.

“I’ve heard a lot of this in the past, that young coaches are not ready for the stress of professional football, and don’t have knowledge but I don’t think its true,” Bonet says. “I think it can go both ways. Age doesn't define knowledge. Many 50-60-year-old coaches don’t know how to work with players and younger coaches do. It’s a conversation that has happened in many forms over the years. Who is better, Indian coaches or foreign coaches? But these identities don’t define your ability to do the job.”

His age, he says, puts him closer to that of players, and so he can understand them better. The relatability transfers to pop culture, life experience and even the way to grow into a beautiful game.

The Federation has also chosen to direct more energy towards developing and providing avenues for those interested to learn and acquire licences. The fourth module of the AFC Pro Diploma coaching course concluded in Goa last week, and among the many who were part of it, faces familiar not just to Miranda but also to Indian Football fans. Former internationals Renedy Singh, Shanmugam Venkatesh, Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Ishfaq Ahmed were there in Goa, and have also already been a part of the coaching staff in various roles at clubs across India.

Another of Miranda’s contemporaries, Steven Dias, has just taken Ambernath Atlanta United FC through to the Hero I-League Qualifiers Final Round. The average age of this entire quintet tops out at 40, which as Hugo testifies, may not be young but it’s definitely young enough.

While each of them traverses different paths in the coaching spectrum — some choosing to focus on the grassroots, while others looking to take charge of clubs at various levels — there is support in the presence of coaches like Bonet, and ATK Mohun Bagan’s Juan Ferrando. Seeing them struggle, grow and negotiate the waves of Indian football has been uplifting, and encouraging.

“We are moving from this traditional old-school manner of coaching to a more scientific, facts-based, tech-assisted method of football coaching,” Miranda says, “and even in India we have embraced this wholly. It gives younger coaches a fresher way to look at the profession and bring something into it. I'm glad clubs are giving younger coaches, and fresher minds a chance. It allows us to push ourselves into the unknown too.”

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