"Do you know where I'm from?" This is what India's Dutch football coach Wim Koevermans told HT rhetorically, emphatically even, in the first interview after his appointment, when queried on the style of play he wants the team to adopt. Two months on, and one got a first glimpse of the Koevermans' brand of football in his first unofficial match as India coach. Not stuff straight out of the Rinus Michels playbook, but enough encouraging signs none the less.
Unlike India teams of the recent past there was a greater emphasis on keeping the ball along the ground and maintaining possession. The match, against I-League side Pailan Arrows, ended in a goalless draw. But, there was enough evidence of a more attacking approach, with Koevermans' team coming close on many occasions.
Twice they were denied by the woodwork, a Sunil Chhetri penalty that thudded into the post and an exquisite Mehtab Hossain chip that sailed over an advancing goalkeeper into the crossbar. A further two times they put the ball in the back of the net, but both were ruled off-side. More importantly the thrust of the attack didn't come from long outlet passes or crossfield diagonals, but through clever build-up play with the two central midfielders, young Lenny Rodrigues and Mehtab Hossain (Baljit Saini in the first half), showing a great work-rate. Another heartening feature was how the players would press hard to regain possession, and many of their attacks were built on solid tackles in the middle third, that won them the ball back.
The centrebacks were playing an advanced line, with both Gourmangi Singh and Raju Gaikwad, linking up with central midfielders and making rare forays upfield.
However, the style also seemed to undermine the wing-backs with neither the right-back or left-back venturing too far out of their half, a far cry from the marauding runs of Surkumar Singh and Mahesh Gawli in the Houghton era.