Unlike some coaches in the Indian Super League (ISL) who have longer contracts, Ricki Herbert's time with NorthEast United FC ends with the first season. That makes Herbert, under whose watch New Zealand were the 2010 World Cup finals' only unbeaten team, available for the India senior team's job now vacant after Wim Koevermans left last month.
"I think the challenge would be incredibly exciting," Herbert, 53, told HT on Monday. The former New Zealand defender who played in the 1982 World Cup finals then said he has an incredibly tight tournament to focus on but later at the media conference mentioned how India's low Fifa ranking should be seen as an opportunity and not a crisis.
"New Zealand were ranked 156 (September 2007) and qualified for the World Cup (in 2010). They were ranked 49th in September 2010.What you need is higher levels of competition and not a negative point of view," he said, referring to his time as the All Whites' coach. India are now ranked 159th.
The ISL, according to Herbert, has challenged Indian players at games and at training. "Some of our players haven't even played the I-League and here they are playing to packed stadiums… you can't get a ticket two days before a game in Guwahati... The idea would be to build a solid base from the under-14 to the senior team," he said.
Herbert said the ISL could also learn from the A-League, Australia's apex competition, of which he was a part as Wellington Phoenix's coach. "It's been around for 10 years and if looked at closely, the ISL could take some shortcuts." The A-League too has marquee players and has 10 teams.
Since being from New Zealand means "everywhere is a lot of travel", Herbert said he doesn't have an issue with it in the ISL. What he would like going forward is more time between games.
"Doesn't have to be very long but a broader window would help players be at their best on a regular basis. Say 4-5 days between games," he said.
Another input would be to reduce over time the number of imports, something his counterpart for Tuesday's game, Atletico de Kolkata coach Antonio Lopez Habas, too has advocated. "You should build the league primarily around improving the standard of Indian players. I think with time, teams would also start looking at the kind of international players they bring."