Santosh Kashyap is a popular name in Indian football. Known for his knack of getting unfancied teams to punch above their weights under his guidance, Kashyap has coached Air India, Mohun Bagan and ONGC in the past. The former Mahindra United player is now guiding the fortunes of I-League debutants Rangdajied United Football Club, and has already led the club to a Shillong Premier League title. Kashyap recently took time out to speak to TheHardTackle, sharing his experiences on his coaching career and offering his opinion on other issues.
Q) What prompted you to move to Rangdajied United?
Rangdajied United was a new challenge for me. They had done well in the second division; they had a young squad. I have previously worked with the Mahindra United youth side, and both the Air India and ONGC sides had young squads, so it was another challenge for me to work with another young team. Moreover, I also wanted to work in a different environment, and this is a new one you can say. So the prospect of working with a new management, a new setup, under a different environment prompted me to take up this job.
Q) The club had a slow start to the season picking up merely 2 points in the first 7 games but is slowly getting its act together in the league. What has been the secret behind the resurgence?
We have a very young squad. They are talented technically, no doubt, but were lacking the experience to play at this level. They had done well in the second division, but it’s pretty much a different level of football here in the I-League, and they were finding it difficult to cope up with it initially. Moreover, our foreigners joined the team pretty late, and couldn’t attend the pre-season. Tamba had to leave during pre-season because of his father’s passing away, while Edmar joined late and was out of practice; Iwasaki too joined late, and Kim had problems with his visa, so he too joined only after the season was up and running. We missed those foreign players initially, but once they found their feet, all four of them, and the IMG-R contracted players joined, things started turning around.
Q) Fans of North Eastern Indian are known for their passionate support of their teams. Tell us a bit about Rangdajied’s home crowd since we often miss out on TV coverage of their games.
They are full of passion, and you can see that their involvement in the game is very high. Even in the local league games, 2000-5000 people attend the matches, which is a very good crowd for any local game. In the derby, the entire stadium was packed. The people here know their football, and they enjoy every moment of the game. I think football is the primary source of entertainment in Shillong. People come to the games with their families, which is not seen everywhere in the country. Moreover, the competitive local league has also helped pull people to the stands; teams like Royal Wahingdoh, Malki, Langsning and other teams also play good football. So, there’s always a good atmosphere here during the games.
Q) People call you the Harry Redknapp of India because of your man-management skills and your record of having managed low-budget clubs, and having helped them to stay afloat in the top-flight. What is your winning formula?
Whatever I have learned in my playing and my coaching career, I have tried to put it to use with the teams I coach. I always put every effort from my side. I think my time with Mahindra United helped me to grow as a coach. I also did a diploma in management during my time of employment with Mahindra, which also helped me in handling man-management. I played for a long time there and was also the youth side’s coach. With experience, I have learned more in this trade. I always try to understand my players’ need, what they want from me, how they feel psychologically and physically. I try to educate them as a friend, without being too harsh, and they reciprocate with their performance on the field.
Q) Last season you inspired ONGC players even when the chips were down and when the club was likely to get the boot. How did u do that?
You see, everywhere it’s a different challenge. At Air India, prior to the ONGC job, I had a very similar situation. We were facing difficulties on and off the field. Our aim was to stave off relegation; and once we achieved that, we started planning for the next season. We had a very good pre-season, I was able to build the team the way I wanted. Eventually, we finished 9th, which is a very respectable position. When I took over at ONGC, I faced a situation similar to my first season at Air India. I learnt that the team was having some problems. They weren’t really playing as a unit on the field, and I tried to get that right. It was a young, talented squad; I tried to apply my philosophies into the team, and by God’s grace, we started getting the results, and we performed really well, beating good sides like East Bengal, Lajong, Salgaocar. I think what was crucial was a run of 5-6 unbeaten games, and that run really helped in boosting the team’s confidence.
Q) Having coached departmental teams like ONGC and Air India, how do you feel about AIFF’s decision to stop these teams from playing in I-League?
AIFF has to try and implement the AFC criteria, so these departmental sides were asked to move out. However, considering the fact that only Pune FC fulfilled the AFC criteria, and the closure of Pailan Arrows and Mumbai Tigers, they should have considered giving these departmental sides the opportunity to play in the league because they provided good platforms for young, upcoming footballers. It’s understandable that you have to cope with the changing times. Pune FC have set the standard for professionalism among Indian clubs but you can’t ignore the contribution of departmental sides to Indian football.
Q) You had a short stint with Mohun Bagan, which ended with your resignation after only a few months into the job. What went wrong?
I had moved to Mohun Bagan from Air India, and it was quite a different challenge there. You had to fight for the championship. I feel we started the season well; but injuries and sickness to important players seriously hurt the team. Before the Federation Cup, many of our players were suffering from dengue. They recovered soon, but couldn’t get match-fit. Tolgay also suffered a hamstring injury, and was having his own transfer issue with East Bengal. Odafa had a problem with his thigh, and he too was sidelined. Despite losing the two most important strikers in the squad, we did well, I feel. In the Federation Cup, the missing members hurt us bad, and we were unfortunately knocked out. Then in the league, we were missing many players, who weren’t completely match-fit, and we lost a few games. In most of these games, we suffered from a poor conversion rate; we lacked the killer instinct up front despite playing well and dropped quite a few points which we shouldn’t have dropped. We then lost to Prayag United in the league by the margin of 2-1 in a crucial game, and that loss put the management under pressure, and I had to move out.
Q) Coming back to your current club, how have the four loan signings from IMG-R helped your side?
I think all four of our loan signings from IMG-R have been terrific, although Subrata is no longer with us because of his move to Denmark. At the beginning of the campaign, we made some silly mistakes and dropped some crucial points. We could have won against Dempo, Churchill and Salgaocar at home, especially against Salgaocar when we were leading, and they equalized at the death. Again, we played well enough at Pune FC to have at least earned a point there, but we didn’t convert our chances there and ended up losing. Even at the back, we were conceding some soft goals. My goalkeepers Surjay and Shambhu are both young, talented boys, but that lack of experience haunted them in the beginning. Subrata steadied the ship at the back once he came on. In fact, all four of them, Subrata, Gouramangi, Manandeep and Tomba helped us immensely when they came here. The young players started growing in confidence by playing with them, and we started converting our draws and losses to wins and draws, respectively.
Q) Do you think Rangdajied can avoid the drop this season, considering you have to fight it out with teams like Churchill?
I feel this season the I-League has been much more competitive, compared to the previous editions. All the teams play high standard football. The league table itself shows how close the teams are in terms of quality. The last 9 teams are separated by merely 8 points, so it’s going to be a close battle for everyone at the bottom. Any team can move up significantly by winning just two consecutive games. It’s not just a battle between us and Churchill, but at least three/four other teams will be there as well. It’s only a matter of a few games, and you could see a bottom team in the top-half and vice-versa, which shows how tight it has been in the I-League this season. I think even the championship race will go down the wire, and will probably be decided on the last day.
Q) Rangdajied United won the Shillong Premier League without losing a single game this season. How important is this tournament to Rangdajied United?
We have treated Shillong Premier League as a preparatory tournament for the I-League. I have been able to set up my team for the I-League through this league. The tournament itself is pretty challenging. The level of football is obviously very different from the I-League, and we couldn’t replicate our local league form in the I-League initially. We have a very talented squad, and we kept on doing well in SPL. For the last few seasons, the clubs had missed out on the title narrowly, so this season’s win came as a huge relief for the club’s management. To end the season unbeaten was quite an achievement too. The win will no doubt give the youngsters a lot of confidence as we move ahead in the season; and hopefully we will be able to produce similar performances in the I-League too.
Q) The Indian Super League will commence from next September. Do you think it will be beneficial to Indian football?
It’s too early to call on that, because nobody is sure if the tournament itself will go ahead as planned. If it does take place, one will be able to judge if the impact has been positive or negative. The infrastructure will hopefully get a boost if it does take place, and it can again be used for the U-17 World Cup. Then again, the I-League itself has had a tremendous growth this year. The quality of football has definitely increased, and as has already been revealed, there has been a 50% rise in attendances. It will be great if more I-League games are telecast and played under floodlights in future.