He’s shared the pitch with VP Sathyan and Hamilton Bobby and has fond recollections but more of that later. Former international Syed Shabir Pasha is also the only Indian coach with an AFC Pro Licence in the third season of the Indian Super League (ISL). Between getting ready for their opener, away to Atletico de Kolkata on Sunday, Pasha, assistant coach to Marco Materazzi with defending champions Chennaiyin FC, spoke to HT looking to the past and the future even as he stayed rooted in the present.
Like Indian players, Pasha, whose goal in the final of the 1995 SAF Games in Chennai gave India the gold, said the ISL can be a massive learning experience for Indian coaches. “You get to work with not only great coaches but also some very experienced foreign players. As an aspiring coach, you can try and learn as much as you can while doing the courses but there is no replacement for the experience you get on the job. And learning from someone like Materazzi is not something everyone is lucky enough to get,” said the former Indian Bank and Tamil Nadu striker from Chennai.
So it fits that Pasha, 43, would try to make the most of spending four months with a World Cup winner who also helmed a turnaround in ISL 2 which saw Chennaiyin FC notch up five straight wins from being at the bottom after 10 rounds.
Materazzi had told HT last year that he is a big fan of Valentino Rossi and Michael Jordan because they don’t know how to give up. Pasha though said the biggest takeaway from the Italian is his positivity.
“He puts a lot of emphasis on encouraging the players and reminding them about their quality. Of course, he also points out the mistakes and sessions are done to work on weaknesses. But what I could gather is that there should be no restriction on telling players how good they are,” said Pasha, who got his Pro Licence earlier this month.
India had nine Pro Licence coaches before Pasha got his badge. Along with Pasha, Bino George, Naushad Moosa and A Robin Charles Raj too got Asia’s highest coaching degree as did former Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood, an Italian, a Scot and a Japanese. The programme began in December 2015 and had four modules, including one in South Korea.
Pasha, who was the head coach at the AIFF’s elite academy in Goa, said he owed a lot to former India youth team coach Colm Toal for clearing the test. “During my days at AIFF under Toal Sir, everyday was like a session of AFC Pro License course for me. He never shied away from having a go at us for doing any task wrong but he was always available for a query. Most importantly, the basics he taught us helped me a lot and hence that experience unknowingly gave me a great preparation for the Pro License course.”
Like a good striker evading a challenge, Pasha avoided answering whether the standard of the ISL is higher than the I-League’s but said “the presence of so many top foreign coaches and players certainly enhances the level of play in ISL.”
“The popularity of a league is also linked to its quality and the ISL gives opportunity to fans around the country to watch certain players in action that a few years ago may not have been possible to see in India.”
My team, my state
And that sure has had an effect on the following of domestic football in Tamil Nadu. “You know it is important for raising the profile of the sport in the country as a whole but, yes, in the case of Tamil Nadu, it is even more important because the state didn’t have a team that was competing at the highest level for many years after Indian Bank.
“Because of Indian Bank, the people of Tamil Nadu got to see the top players of the country in action at the stadium. There has never been a lack of passion or talent in the state but we needed a team from the region that would be competing at the highest level in Indian football. Now, there is a team to support. As for aspiring footballers of the state, they have something meaningful to dream for and hence consider football as a profession,” said Pasha, the top scorer in two editions of the Santosh Trophy.
Looking back in wonder
Pasha joined Chennaiyin FC last February but it was in Kolkata that he had his most memorable moment as a footballer. It happened in 1995 but Pasha, who was also part of the 1998 Asian Games squad, remembers it like it was yesterday. “You know, for many years I was playing as a striker at club level but for national team, I remember, it was on the suggestion of (then India coach) Jiri Pesek, under whom I made my international debut, that I shifted to the left wing.
“I was just happy to be playing for India and not concerned at all about my position. But in the final of the 1995 SAF Games, (coach) Rustam Akramov put me as a forward because Jo (Paul Ancheri) was ruled out of the tournament due to injury while Bhaichung (Bhutia) got injured in the semi-final. Scoring the winner was an unbelievable moment and the fact that it came in Chennai in front of my friends and family was extra special… It is something that I will never forget.”
Ancheri too would remember the tournament because it was the first of many injuries that prevented the versatile footballer from having a consistent run for club and country.
Even though the conversation had shifted to Chennai, the last question was lobbed with some apprehension because it involved former internationals and teammates Bobby and Sathyan. But Pasha went down memory lane like it was a route he was waiting to take.
“You know Bobby was a born talent. You would pay just to watch someone like him play. Sathyan, on the other hand, was a born leader but became a great player through sheer hard work. On the pitch, I always knew that Bobby would provide me the key pass and Sathyan would hold the team together at the back. That Indian Bank team was fantastic but possibly underachieved. Maybe, some better coaching would have helped us because as far as talent went, we had everything. I still feel sad when I realise that they died so young but I still use their references while coaching during the grassroots. I miss them,” he said.
Aged 44, Bobby died after a heart attack in 2011 and Sathyan committed suicide in 2006. He was 41.