Carlton Chapman – the name reminds us of a supremely talented ball player who had mesmerized the football lovers in this country with his exceptional skill and vision of the game. The former Captain of the Indian national football team, who achieved the coveted honor to make it to the prestigious Hall of Fame listing for his outstanding contribution towards Indian Football gets candid in an interview with TheHardTackle’s correspondent Jonathan De Sousa.
Jonathan: Sir, first of all let me begin by thanking you for allocatting your precious time to catch-up with TheHardTackle.
Chapman: My pleasure.
Jonathan: Let me begin by asking you what are the reasons for you to take up the coaching responsibility after your retirement as a professional footballer?
Chapman: I decided to hang up my boots from East Bengal when 2001 season came to an end. After 6-7 months I got a call from Tata Football Academy saying that they wanted me to help out the youngsters in their academy set-up. They told me that the experience I gained from playing at the highest level would help immensely to properly guide the youngsters and mould them into successful football players. “Tata Group” was the only big company during those days that was willing to pay a lot of money for the development of football in India. So I decided to take up the job of coaching India’s potential talents.
Jonathan: We often hear the much maligned cliché – “Playing and coaching are not the same cup of tea”. How is coaching and playing different? I mean to say that when you’re a player you are your own master on the pitch, while when you’re a coach you have to depend on the players to do the job for you. Could you please compare the two for us to have a clearer understanding?
Chapman: I do agree. Coaching and playing are two completely different aspects. As a player there is no pressure once you’re on the field. When you’re on the field all that you do is concentrate on the game. But as a coach you have to think all the time. The pressure is on you for the whole game. Whether it’s making substitutions, judging the tactical aspects of the opposing team etc. If a team wins, the player who scored the winning goal or the player who played well gets all the credit; while if a team loses mostly the coach is blamed. That’s the harsh reality. That’s why the pressure is always on the coach. So the conclusion will be that a coach is under more pressure than a player.
Jonathan: How do you compare your two coaching stints thus far? How is coaching boys for an academy different from coaching professionals for a club?
Chapman: In TFA the pressure was not that much in terms of results, the coaching was development oriented. There was emphasis on KRA’s (Key Result Areas) i.e. how many tournaments would be organized, how many tournaments we would participate in, how many players went on to represent the state, country in different age groups etc. All those criteria had to be fulfilled. We had to fulfill at least 90% of KRA. That was the pressure. Pressure was on the coaches to produce players to represent the country and the state. We also had to do a balancing act between sending players to represent the country and keeping enough players to represent the academy.
While coaching a club or a professional side the pressure is huge because it’s more result oriented. Even if you lose 2-3 games on the trot, you are sacked. Everyone wants results. If you want good sponsors you have to show them results. In an academy the growth is slow while in a club the growth has to be fast and everyone wants quick results – from the owners to the management to the sponsors. You can take your time to build a player in an Academy but when you’re coaching a professional side the results have to be quick. There is also constant movement of players in a club unlike an academy. New players keep coming in while many players also leave making the coach’s job even tougher as the new players take time to adjust to a system. By the time the players understands the system the season nears its end. There is definitely more pressure and expectation from a professional team coach than an academy coach.
Jonathan: Sir how did you get into coaching Royal Wahingdoh Football Club?
Chapman: After leaving TFA I joined Royal Rangers, New Delhi, which was a good team and they also had a very good sponsor. While coaching the Delhi-based outfit, I got an offer to coach Royal Wahingdoh Football Club (RWFC), and I was ecstacic at the offer. RWFC excited me as they had a similar set up to TFA. It was almost like the second TFA. RWFC had mostly youngsters like TFA and this excited me as the team had energy and potential to become a force to reckon with in India. If we could coach them well and talk to them and motivate them we could get the right results. There is tremendous talent in the North East region and RW provided a platform for these youngsters. Even now my philosophy is for promoting youngsters from North East. We have 3 foreigners whom we have signed only for 2 months. If they perform well we will keep them else we will look for better players.
Jonathan: Okay, let me now come straight to your team. How has the preparation been going for you all so far?
Chapman: Preparation has been going great so far. Whatever I wanted from the management I have got. They have been very supportive. I wanted to come for a trip to Goa to get acclimatized to the hot weather since we are playing the preliminary rounds of the I-League-2 at Madurai in Tamil Nadu where it will be very hot and humid. The management immediately acceded to my request. Earlier in the season we practiced at Jamshedpur at the TFA complex. The management spent a lot of money. We participated in the TATA Steel tournament where we played the final against Mohammedan Sporting.
The boys were lucky and excited to play such a big and historical club like Mohammedans. The pressure on the players was also too much after we beat Shillong Lajong to win the Shillong League. So I decided to come to Goa with the players to get some much needed rest and get used to the hot weather and take the pressure off the players. We have played two games in Goa so far. We played against Sporting Clube De Goa who recently beat Lajong in the final of Abhishek Kadam tournament. Although we lost against them we played a good game. Today we drew 0-0 with Salgaocar who are leading the I-League at the moment. In fact they played with almost their full strength squad which had the likes of James Singh, Luciano Sabrosa and Ryuji Sueoka. The Salgaocar player’s heaped praise on our team and told us that we can upset any team on our day. This has given us great confidence in our quest to qualify for the I-League. We just have to keep working hard to get the result.
Jonathan: Sir could you tell us one player each from defense, midfield and attack who could be the potential stars for the country?
Chapman: In defense we have Bowari Khongstia, a local from Shillong. He is just 20 years of age. He is short but has a powerful shot. He is also great on the overlap. He plays as a right back. In midfield we have Kima and Mala, both from Mizoram, who control the game well from the centre of the park. Our star striker Seitya is from Manipur, he was top scorer in the Shillong league. He too is only 20 years of age. In fact the average age of our squad is just 21. That is why when I saw this team I felt like it was the second TFA. If TFA could qualify for the I-League then why not us.
Jonathan: What about your foreign players?
Chapman: We have three foreigners. Henry and Mesbau from Nigeria and Beekay, a Liberian.
Jonathan: Sir how would you rate the group that you are in? You’ll will have to face the likes of Vasco SC. How confident are you of progressing to the final round?
Chapman: If we can play well against the likes of Salgaocar and Sporting then why not against the likes of Techno Aryan, Vasco and others. We are confident of playing well and reaching the second stage. We definitely have the potential to qualify for the I-League. I am in no way underestimating my opponents. It is a tough group but I am confident that we can qualify for the top tier Indian football – the I-League is our dream.
Jonathan: What are your thoughts on the format of the second division league? Does a two month league favour smaller clubs? Do you think we should have a longer I-League 2?
Chapman: See the Federation has to take a call on this. A whole year league will definitely be better as it will allow a player to play more games and develop his skill-set. But this will happen only when teams get their own stadiums and have better infrastructure. Tell me one thing, how many of the top teams in India have their own stadium? The Federation is putting pressure on the clubs to fulfill the criteria but this will happen only if the clubs get serious and have their own stadium. A whole season I-league 2 will help us in the long run as it will help unearth more hidden talents and develop a promising talent to be a complete player in the future.
Jonathan: Sporting recently complained to the AIFF stating that it is unfair to stage the final qualifying round in Shillong. What is your take on this?
Chapman: The Federation took a call on that and we have to respect it. I understand the sentiments of Sporting but our club, in no way, influenced the AIFF into making this decision. We are coming from the cold climate of Shillong and playing in the hot and humid climate of Tamil Nadu; but did we complain? We never asked the AIFF to have the second phase in Shillong. It was their own call.
Jonathan: Sir let me ask you about football in general now. Specially with respect to India. How the game has changed from the time you were playing? Has it changed for the better?
Chapman: We were the best players in the county at that time but in terms of facilities, we weren’t given that much. Today’s players are given plenty of facilities by the clubs and a lot of guidance with respect to life after football. We just completed Metriculation and became players, but now players are concentrating on studies too. Today many palyers are graduates and even masters. So they are understanding the importance of education along with the career as a footballer, which I appreciate.
However, the saddening part is that earlier there used to be around 2000 players from all over India for trials at TFA but now the number is gradually decreasing. Parents want their kids to study. I am not blaming the parents either, they are entitled to think about their kids future. This mentality can change if players receive proper guidance and education. There is life after football too, be it in coaching or administration. Players now are roaming with laptops, they are internet savvy, they log on to Facebook etc which is certainly a good sign. Educated players can fit into a system better and analyze the drawbacks in them in a systematic manner.
For example a player who is educated, will grasp the coaches’ instructions faster than a player who does not have formal education. Our football scene is improving for sure. We reached the Asia Cup after a long time; we won back to back Nehru Cups. Earlier it was only Bhaichung, but now players like Gourmangi Singh, Sunil Chhetri and Subrata Paul are going for foreign trials which are indeed a very good sign.
Jonathan: At the present moment what needs to improve to develop the level of the game in our country?
Chapman: Well football in India is only played in about four states. I think we must have at-least one team from every state. Football needs to widen its tentacles in India. We enjoy tremendous support in Shillong which got even bigger because we had a team that was competing at the national level. If every state has at-least one team playing in the I-League set-up, it will draw huge support from the masses and the popularity of football will spread to all corners of India – which is the need of the hour.
Jonathan: What about the infrastructure?
Chapman: Sometimes people blindly blame it on infrastructure. Are we using the infrastructure that we currently have to the fullest? No doubt we need quality infrastructure but we cannot put the entire blame on the Federation. The Federation will not give you 10 crores and tell you to build a stadium. The onus should be on the clubs to build the required infrastructure and stadiums and to find sponsors to fund it. If you want to run a professional club, you should build your own stadium.
Jonathan: Sir tell me something about Royal Wahingdoh’s role in promoting players from the North East.
Chapman: This question will be better answered by my manager Lambert. Lambert, over to you!
Lambert Syiem: See our team has players mostly from the north east. Our players are from Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. What Royal Wahingdoh has done is to provide a platform for these players to showcase their talent. Earlier players had to travel to Kolkata to play for clubs at the national level, but now with Lajong and Wahingdoh making waves on the national scene, our players don’t have to go far. No one likes to leave home and their family behind, but earlier players had no other option. By playing football they also keep off vices like alcoholism, addiction to banned substances etc. There is huge talent in the North East but there were no clubs to harness this talent and train youngsters. But now we have at least two major clubs promoting the game in the north east part of the country.
I’ll give you the example of our right back Bhowari Khongstia. He is a raw talent and has never played football at the national stage in any of the age group tournaments. But our coaches spotted his talent and gave him the proper training and today he is one of the best players in our squad and he is still only 20 years of age.
Jonathan: Can you list three things that you would like to see in Indian football?
Chapman: Firstly I would like to see India climb to at-least 75th in the FIFA rankings. At present the Indian team has five players from Dempo, four players from East Bengal and two from Mohun Bagan. This trend has to change. We need more diversify the game across India. Savio Medeira has been the national team’s assistant coach for five years now and he has learnt a lot from Bob Houghton. Why don’t we continue with Houghton’s philosophy with Savio at the helm of affairs?
Jonathan: So you’re saying that Savio Medeira should be India’s next coach?
Chapman: Yes. Houghton was pretty successful for us. Now let us continue with Bob’s philosophy under the guidance of Savio Medeira and then compare the two and judge whether things have improved. But mind you he should be given the same facilities that were given to Bob. I’m sure he will do a decent job.
Jonathan: And what are the other two things that you would like to see change in Indian Football?
Chapman: There has to be more professionalism. Everybody in the Federation has to be aware of their roles and responsibilities. And thirdly I would like to see at-least ten new quality stadiums in India.
Jonathan: Lastly, sir which is the bigger club in Shillong in terms of fan following? Lajong or Wahingdoh? Keeping my fingers crossed, hoping you’ll reach the final round where you’ll meet your local rivals Shillong Lajong. How much support do you expect in that case?
Chapman: From my experience definitely Wahingdoh. We’ll get 90% of support among the Shillong localites.
Lambert: Look Wahingdoh is the name of a city in Shillong. So it has that local connect and people therefore support us. We definitely have a bigger fan following in Shillong. No doubt if Lajong is the only team in the I-League we all support Lajong but if both Lajong and Wahingdoh reach the I League we will enjoy bigger support.
Jonathan: Sir we shall end this interview with a quick rapid fire round!
Chapman: Ya sure!
Jonathan: The best coach you have worked under?
Chapman: Rustam Akramov from Uzbekistan.
Jonathan: The best player you have played with?
Chapman: I.M. Vijayan.
Jonathan: Your idol?
Chapman: Diego Maradona.
Jonathan: Your favorite contemporary player?
Chapman: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United).
Jonathan: Your favorite club?
Chapman: Manchester United.
Jonathan: Best ever Indian to have played football in India?
Chapman: Krishanu Dey.
Jonathan: Favorite Indian club?
Chapman: East Bengal FC.
Jonathan: Best moment in football?
Chapman: Scoring a hat trick for East Bengal against Al Zawra of Iraq in Asian Cup Winners Cup.
Jonathan: Best goal?
Chapman: Scoring in the semifinals of Federation Cup 1996 for JCT against East Bengal?
Jonathan: Sir thank you very much for obliging and taking time out from your busy schedule. It’s really an overwhelming experience.
Chapman: My pleasure!