Coach Bob Houghton and his support staff have taken 29 of India's best footballers to Portugal for a pre-season training camp, and, and the mood is upbeat despite the prospect of tough opposition in their next assignment.
The focus is the Asian Cup in January next year, a competition India haven't featured in for over two decades. And India are drawn with Australia, Japan and Bahrain for the Cup. "I would have to be a very brave man to say we will qualify out of this group," said a suitably realistic Houghton. "But we will go in well prepared thanks to this long training camp."
A rest day in the two-month Portugal sojourn provided an ideal opportunity to catch up with vice-captain Rennedy Singh, who was in the middle of a meal at the 'Taj Figueira' an Indian restaurant hosting the 'Bhangra Boys' "The weather is great, we have been here two weeks now, so the rustiness is wearing off. Most of the boys are getting to peak fitness levels," said Rennedy. "Apart from Sammer (Naik), Climax (Lawrence) and of course Baichung, everyone is in good shape, and training hard. Jagpreet has had knee surgery, and his rehab work is going pretty well too."
"Our training base is at Marinha Grande, home to a third division club, but the field and training facilities at top-notch; better than anything we have back home. The facilities motivate us to train harder."
Two months, though, is a long time to be away from home, wives, and girlfriends. "The married guys, Deepak (Mondal), Mahesh (Gawli), miss their wives, of course," said Rennedy, who revealed that the team goes out only on Saturday nights, with weekdays being reserved for training. "Otherwise though, boys will be boys. We are a pretty good-looking bunch (laughing), and I can't say the guys don't enjoy female attention. Our hotel is also right on the beach, so that helps a little. Mehraj (Wadoo) and Subhashish (Roy Chowdhury) are the most popular with the ladies."
Houghton will keep his group together all the way till the Asian Cup, and the players will not return to their clubs, or play in the I-League's next edition. While this tactic has its detractors, the effect on bonding is unmistakable. "We eat all out meals together. After training the team attacks the hotel buffet, and that is also bonding time," said Rennedy. "Twenty-nine boys, one room, its like being back in school."
The team will leave their current base in Marinha Grande for Lisbon on the August 1, where they will play eight training games, before heading to Thailand for an international friendly.
Desmond Bulpin to coach India U-19 squad
New Delhi: The AIFF have appointed former Philippines national team coach, Desmond Bulpin, as the head coach of their Under-19 team. Bulpin has been a coach at Queens Park Rangers and youth coach at Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, where he had a role in the development of England internationals like Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe. The AIFF has big plans for the u-19 squad, including incorporating it into the I-League. It will also form the bulk of the squad that will go to the Adsian Games .