It is not unusual for Colm Joseph Toal, a British football coach who over a period of seven years tutored several players who are now pillars of the game in India, to feel uncomfortable visualising a team in a top league boasting of six foreigners to five Indians….writes Debayan Mukherjee
Since 2007, when he first came to India, Toal has nurtured talent like Jeje Lalpekhlua and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu as part of his stint with youth teams.
Toal parted ways with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the game’s parent body, in 2014, having churned out over 30 players who are now part of the national team and form the crux of clubs spread across the country.
Back after a two-year hiatus, the Florida-based tactician has been roped in by new I-League side Minerva Punjab FC as their technical director.
“Having six foreigners in the starting 11 reduces chances for more Indians to play,” Toal told IANS in an interview.
“May be it helps in the marketing aspect, I don’t know. All I can say is that I am sure that the decision-makers are aware of this issue and they will come up with solutions,” said the 68-year-old whose last assignment was with the India U-19 side in the AFC Cup qualifiers in Doha.
From that batch, the likes of strikers Udanta Kumar Singh, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, goalkeeper Vishal Kaith and defender Rupert Nongrum have made an impact.
Citing an example from the now-defunct Pailan Arrows team, which comprised only Indian players, Toal said: “Remember the Arrows? They were made up of young footballers from our YDP (youth development programme).
“All Indians! And we finished seventh in Season 1. See the results today and you know the advantages of having more Indian players playing a full game of 90 minutes.”
It was the Arrows’ first year in the top flight and the team finished ninth in the league with 29 points from their full quota of 26 matches.
Gurpreet, India’s only player to have played in the Europa League, was the goalkeeper and Jeje was given the responsibility to find the back of the net.
Arrows — AIFF’s developmental team immuned from relegation during its stay — found a sponsor in Pailan later and were known as Pailan Arrows.
Under the tutelage of Australian coach Arthur Papas, Arrows had all of today’s star players like Pritam Kotal, Prabir Das, Pronay Halder, Narayan Das, Milan Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Shouvick Ghosh and so on.
“It was sheer hard work by the support staff who were a part of the AIFF’s YDP,” Toal reflected when asked about the glut of players he has produced.
Toal stressed on India’s win against higher-ranked Puerto Rico which gave a major fillip to its rankings this year, underlining that many Arrows players were part of that team.
“The Indian national team won against Puerto Rico 4-1 and they played very well. The Arrows’ boys played an important role,” Toal said.
The upcoming U-17 World Cup, on which the sport is banking so much on, is a huge step for youth teams, felt Toal.
“There is definitely more interest in the game with the U-17 World Cup next year. It is a huge step for the age group teams especially for the U-17 World Cup team.
“I know they have had many exposure trips and are playing so many international games which is very good.”