SHILLONG – The credit for the Indian national team’s recent upswing in FIFA ranking to 96 from the 170s not too long ago should mainly go to Indian Super League (ISL) coaches, as the players greatly benefited from them, feels former Indian-origin English Premier League forward Michael Chopra.
The 33-year-old former Newcastle star however cautioned against getting carried away too much by the team’s leap in rankings.
“Indian football is on an upward spiral. I think people get carried away when they see India is 96 or 97 in the world,” Chopra, who has spent more than a decade in top flight England tourneys playing for nine different clubs, told IANS during an interview here.
Chopra, who has played for Sunderland and has been plying his trade in the ISL from its first season in 2014, was in Shillong for “Mission Football”, a Meghalaya government-driven grassroots programme.
“In reality, I think New Zealand are 95. Could India beat New Zealand? I don’t think so. New Zealand played the Confederations Cup. They played Russia, they got beaten 1-2. You look at Canada at 100. Do I think India would have a chance against Canada? I don’t think so. Iain Hume is the one of the best players in the ISL. He can’t get in the Canadian national team,” said Chopra, who once harboured dreams of turning out for India owing to his roots.
When Chopra joined the ISL bandwagon in 2014, India were wallowing in the 170s.
Since then, with Stephen Constantine taking over as head coach from Dutchman Wim Koevermans in January 2015, the national team has taken giant strides, rocketing last month to 96 in the rankings — their best in 21 years.
Chopra, who played for ISL franchise Kerala Blasters till the last season, feels more than Constantine, it is the ISL coaches who have made Indian footballers better.
“You look at three years ago, I think they (India) were 177-175. ISL started, now you look where they are. And I believe that it’s due to a lot of foreign coaches coming to India and coaching the players properly.
“I am friends with some of the former India players like Renedy Singh and Bhaichung Bhutia. I was speaking to Bhaichung some days ago and he said we used to run around the pitch 10 times and then we would play XI a side.
“You don’t get coaching that way. Coming to the ISL, names like (Marco) Materazzi, Steve Coppell, David James, (Gianluca) Zambrotta, Peter Reid, all these top managers that were top players have come to India and have helped the kids. I believe that’s had an impact on Indian footballers.
“I came in ISL one and, no disrespect, Indian footballers were not good enough. Look at Jeje (Lalpekhlua) now. How much he has come up working with Materazzi. He is a better player.”
Chopra has just completed his All India Football Federation (AIFF) D licence coaching course. Asked about his coaching ambitions in India, he said Indian coaches aren’t good enough.
“My main objective is to try and give the kids the opportunity that I had in the UK — to be coached by good coaches and to be getting the right advice. No disrespecting the Indian coaches, but I personally don’t think they are good enough. They need to go to another level.
“Do I think they are getting better? Yes. But it’s going to take time. They have their own mentality and it’s different from how I have been brought up in the UK. And I noticed that with the D licence.
“What I was taught as a kid in the UK, it’s different from what is getting taught in India. When I was doing the D licence I had to change how I was thinking about football and adapt to how the AFC badges were done. I want to give the kids the best opportunity.”
Chopra feels the members of India’s U-17 World Cup team are getting ahead of themselves and they need to get their feet on the ground.
“It would be tough for India. They have played together for the last eight months or so and, unlike other teams who have been playing together for 2-3 years, they have been thrown together.
“I went to an event in Delhi some days ago and the U-17 team was there watching the final. Afterwards I see them walking back to the bus to go to their team hotel, and you can see one or two of them strutting about like they have already made it as a player. They cannot get above themselves.”