Over a year after Bob Houghton’s acrimonious exit, the All India Football Federation has, upon the recommendation of technical director Rob Baan, appointed Dutchman Wim Koevermans as coach of the senior national team on a two-year contract. HT caught up with the Euro ’88 winner and player under the famous Dutch coach Rinus Michels prior to the official announcement on Friday. Excerpts:
What kind of a challenge is it for a player from a top football nation such as the Netherlands to coach a country which doesn’t figure anywhere on the global football map?
The way I look at it, in the end, it’s just 11 against 11. The size of the pitch, the lines, the rules, they’re all the same. Of course, everything around it is different, but ultimately it’s about people who share the same passion that is football. The sport has taken me to the middle of the jungles in Suriname. One day, we took a boat trip up a river and came across a village where we had to ask the chief if it’s okay to take a look around. He agreed, and one of children led us through the trees. All of a sudden, in the middle of all the sounds of the jungle, we saw in front of us a football pitch, complete with lines and two goals with nets. So, no matter where you are in the world, if there are people who share your passion, you have something in common. As far as India goes, even if the boys are currently at a different level, it doesn’t mean they can’t make progress.
You take charge on July 1; your first tournament, the Nehru Cup, kicks off on August 23. How do plan to prepare for it, given the limited time that you have?
I feel that the time I have is more than ample. Normally, the Fifa calendar is such that the players are busy with their clubs, so you can only get the national team together for a few days, which means just one or two training sessions. That’s not the case with us – we have a good two weeks together, so it’s a great opportunity for me to get to know the boys, and also for the players because they, too, have to get used to me.
But before I officially take over, I’m flying out to Oman to watch the young boys in action (in the AFC under-22 Asian Cup qualifiers). They’re the future, after all. Part of my background is that young players should be given a chance – that’s what we do in Holland. So, if see a couple of youngsters who’re good enough to be a part of the senior team, I’ll try to include them for the Nehru Cup.
How familiar are you with Indian football?
Well, I’ve seen some of it on DVDs, including some of the recent matches of the AFC Challenge Cup. Also, having travelled around the world and seen football in some of the Asian countries, I can see the similarities. So I have a fairly good idea about what I can expect, but for me, it’ll mainly start when the preparations for the Nehru Cup start. That’s when I’ll have all the players together, see them every day, talk to them as well as see them on the pitch. That apart, I’ll also be talking to a lot of people, especially those who’ve been part of the Indian setup for a long time.
Tell us about your interactions with Rob Baan on India…
When I was a player, he was a coach, for an opposing side! But yeah, since we’re from the same background, we keep talking to each other. He’s given me a lot of information.
Do you plan to travel during the I-League?
That’s one of the requirements of my job. I’ll be visiting the clubs and meeting the coaches, and discuss what needs to be done in order to work towards the improvement of Indian football.
Is there a particular style of play that you prefer?
You know where I am born? (Smiles) Oranje is in my genes; my style is the Dutch style, we want to attack and we want to have the ball. In fact, if you analyse international football, especially in Europe, the style of a lot of the top teams is to keep the ball as much as possible. The defence is very compact, and tries to win the ball back as quickly as possible. But a lot of it depends on the quality of players, which is where many countries are lacking.
As far as a formation goes, it’s just a system. For me, the style is more important. You have a team like Italy that plays 5-3-2 on one day, 4-4-2 on another and sometimes even 4-3-3; a lot of the top teams these days employ a 4-2-3-1. But it needs to fit the players that you have – you can be as attacking as you want using 4-4-2 and as defensive as you want using 4-3-3. Ultimately, it all boils down to the quality of the players, and what suits them the best.
Will you stick to the existing support staff?
I don’t intend to make any changes as of now. I’ll start with the staff that is already here. Of course, if I think adjustments need to be made, I’ll make them.
You were part of the Euro ’88-winning Dutch squad under Rinus Michels. What did you learn from him in terms of coaching philosophy?
I would write down everything he said. I spoke to him a couple of times, and used to travel a lot with him and talked to him a lot. I learnt a lot from him, and I got to know about not just his coaching philosophy but also his playing philosophy.