Debayan Mukherjee

Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, had once said that it’s ‘dishonest’ to ‘believe in something and not to live it.’ On the day of the legendary Freedom Fighter’s 144th birth anniversary, India U-19 Head Coach Colm Joseph Toal — in his seventh year with Youth National Teams — echoed Bapu’s words on various aspects in a candid interview with two days prior to the Team’s first match against Qatar in the AFC U-19 Championships. EXCPERTS:

Colm Toal

India have been Clubbed with Uzbekistan, Qatar, Turkmenistan and Nepal in Group A. What are your expectations?

We know where we stand and stay aware of the Group which we are in. It’s a tough Group and there is no denying that. Uzbekistan qualified for the U-20 World Cup Quarterfinals and Qatar are a very powerful side. The same applies to the other two Teams, Turkmenistan and Nepal.

Having said that, we have been very competitive in these Tournaments in the past and expect to be the same during the next ten days.

You have guided the Indian U-16 National Team to unbridled success qualifying for two AFC Championships in 2008 and the Team also made it to the Final Phase in 2011. Expectations are very high whenever Colm Joseph Toal is at the helm of any AFC Tournament. How do you cope with it?
During my time here, we are still to qualify for the AFC Championships with the U-19 National Team. We are focusing on that at the moment. As you go higher up the pyramid, competition becomes all the more tougher. Asian countries focus more on their U-19 Team than they do on probably their U-16 Teams.

We have had some very good individual results. It’s just that we haven’t been able to put together a string of good results in order to make the next grade. I remember in 2007, 2009, and 2011 we beat some very good Teams.

What is yardstick of measuring development for age-group Teams?

As you go down the pyramid, results are probably not as important as development. To see half a dozen or even more players making it to the (Airtel) I-League and the National Team is much more satisfying than getting nine points and qualifying for the AFC Championship. You need to set long-term goals for age-group Teams.

So winning is not important?
It is a phenomenon. Success breeds success. Since February this year, we have played 26 matches and won 23, drew 3; and that even includes our Exposure Trip to China. That reflects that along with development, you can get results too and I hope that we can continue this run here in Doha.

What gives you more satisfaction, bagging trophies with the age group teams or seeing them graduate into the Senior Team?
It’s nice to pick up the newspaper on a Monday morning and read match reports where our boys who have come through the National Teams Programme featuring in top teams and doing well.

I remember the first group of Arrows in 2011 had 11 players chosen in Armando Colaco’s World Cup Qualification Team. Six of those players went on to make their debuts for the National Team.

These players will be out in the cold from here. Development won’t be the only yardstick then as they join I-League Clubs. As their Head Coach what would be your advice for them?
First I would like to say that the AIFF Academies Project has been a real success. The U-16 Team did so well in the AFC Championship Qualifiers. Rob (Baan) and Scott (O’Donell) have done a wonderful job with this Project.

Here in the Elite Academy we have a pool of talent. These Boys are really good. My advice for them would be that much more than football ability, they need to have a very strong mental attitude.

During their time in the National Team Squads and the Elite Academy they have been looked after very well. They will not receive the same amount of support when they join I-League Clubs.

Do you think the Clubs have the right kind of infrastructure for these Boys to cope? 
Clubs like Shillong (Lajong), Pune FC, Salgaocar are starting to head in the right direction, building a Club and not just a first Team. This mentality has to change. It’s not all about the First Team, it’s about building and maintaining a Club for the future. The Clubs in India have been abdicating their responsibilities for too long regarding producing or developing players for their own Clubs and the National Team.

You are strong believer of building relationships with your Players. Throw some light on how the kind of relationship you share with your wards on and off the pitch.

(Smiles). The only ones who you cannot fool are your players! They know how good or bad you are. The best part about my tenure here in India has been the Players. I have worked with Youth Development in and out for the last seven years and the most positive part of the experience has been working day in and day out with good young Boys.

You have produced a lot of players who are doing very well at the National Level as well as in the I-League. Players like Lalrindika Ralte, Jeje Lalpekhula, Raju Gaikwad, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu among others, have been your products. Much more to come in the near future from this current crop?

We have some very good players in this Squad and it is a very young group. From the 23 we have here, 14 are 17 years and younger. We have 4 boys, all 1997 born who will be eligible for the next AFC U-19 Qualifiers as well.

How significant and helpful was the Exposure Trip in China?
It was very important. All Exposure Trips for Indian Teams from Senior to U-13 are vital. The first Arrows Squad in 2010-11 included 11 boys who had played U-16 in 2007-08 and U-19 in 2009. By the time they reached the I-League with the Arrows, those boys had played 33 International or Representative Matches outside of India.

By the time they went to the Arrows in 2010 they had played in 9 different countries and 3 different continents. That is the type of International Exposure all our young players need.