With the 2013/14 season of Indian Football about to end, it is time to look at the some of the season defining moments and performances. It has been one of the most competitive I-League of all time with both the title and the relegation race going down to the wire. While there have been talks of the best U-23 player, the best foreign player and other such categories, one cannot deny the role played by the coaches in the sucess of their teams. TheHardTackle takes a look at the three top managers in Indian Football for the season 2013/14.
Ashley Westwood ( Bengaluru FC)
It is not an easy job to coach a newly formed side in its debut season and Ashley Westwood passed this daunting task with flying colors. Under the tutelage of Westwood, the JSW backed Bengaluru FC side won the I-League crown in their debut season. A lot of eyebrows were raised when the corporate side appointed the former Manchester United Academy as the head coach given the fact that he had no prior experience of the Indian conditions but the doubts if any were quelled when the Bengaluru side held the national team to a 1-1 draw in a friendly.
Ashley Westwood needs to be credited with bringing in with him the central defense duo of John Johnson and Curtis Osano both of whom have played an key role in Bengaluru’s impressive performances this season. The rival strikers have found it tough to get past them. Besides Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh, Westwood had at his disposal only young Indian players and the rejects from other I-League clubs with little experience of playing in the I-League and this is what makes his success even more remarkable. The coach has played a key role in revitalising the carrers of players like Beikhokhei Beingaichho, Rino Anto and Darren Caldeira who have now become household names. Ashley Westwood has primarily adopted a 4-3-3 formation this season but has rotated his young side effectively with only Johnson, Osano, Ronny, Sunil and Menyongar forming the core of the team. What is also worth mentioning is the way he used Sunil Chhetri. When Chhetri arrived at the club, he was going through his worst phase and Westwood cleverly employed on the left side with Rooney as the leading striker and as he gained in confidence Sunil was moved to the leading striker as well. Sunil carried his form into the national team and went on to become the leading Indian goalscorer of all time.
Thangboi Singto ( Shillong Lajong)
Thangboi Singto played a huge role in steadying Lajong’ ship last season as he helped the club survive the drop after Desmond Bulpin was shown the door in middle of the last season. Lajong were just above the relegation zone when Singto, who had worked with the club for 4 years in the capacity of an assistant coach was appointed. Having led the club to safety last season, the Lajong faithful is now on his to led his club to their best ever finish in the I-League.
Singto knows the club inside out and this has worked to his advantage as he has been able to instill a sense of bonding in the team. Since qualifying for the I-League for the first time in 2009, Lajong had four different coaches till date, in three different I-League campaigns and this instability was one of the main reasons for their below par display. Singto has provided much needed stability at the club and this has positively effected the team’ s performances. Singto’s dealings in the transfer window have proved to be a masterstroke. The likes of Subash Singh, Milan Singh and Robin Gurung, three young players who were inducted in the transfer window have helped Singto adopt an attacking approach. The foreign signings of Cornell Glen and Brazilian Uilliams also played a major role in leading Lajong to their best ever finish. Singto adopted a dynamic formation throughout the season with an emphasis on attack. The likes of Seikhohao Tuboi and Boithang Haokip, two players who have been at the club for over half a decade now, flourished under him and Singto has played a key role in reviving their careers. One of the major highlight of the Manipuri’ s stint with the club this season has been his focus on the youth. He has consistently given playing time to the likes of Shaiborlang Kharpan, Redeem Tlang, Bipin, Rupert Nongrum, Zodingliana Ralte and other boys who have come through the ranks of the Lajong academy. These boys are set to form the core of the Lajong side in times to come and this step by Singto will help the club in times to come.
Oscar Bruzon ( Sporting Club de Goa)
A rewind to the middle of the 2012/13 season and Sporting club de Goa were languishing at the bottom the I-League and coach Ekendra Singh has resigned. Spaniard Oscar Bruzon was appointed as the chief coach and almost one and half years later he has turned the club into a force to reckon with in Indian Football. Sporting won the Goa Pro League, reached the final of Federation Cup and are destined for a top five finish in the I-League.
Despite a modest budget at their disposal, Sporting made themselves count and were prime contenders for the title this season but injuries to crucial players ruined their chances and Oscar Bruzon deserves every credit for this ‘Sporting’ revolution. Bruzon has instilled a philosophy of keeping the ball and possession football which may not be comparable to the European standards but is a step up from the style adopted by the other clubs. The young Goan players in the team – Victorino Fernandes, Stephen Barreto, Pratesh Shirodkar, Jovel Martins, Rowlin Borges, Mauvin Borges and Dawson Fernandes have blossomed under his tutelage, with Victorino and Dawson earning callups to the national team. A key trademark of Bruzon’ s side has been the non-reliance on a single individual and with a lot of young players in their setup, the future looks bright for them.
Salgaocar coach Derrick Periera deserves a notable mention as Salgaocar find themselves at the third position in the I-League table. In his debut season at the club where he played as well, Derrick did a a good job and with a settled side at his disposal he would like to do better next time.