|Syed Rahim Nabi, Clifford Miranda and Mehtab Hossain at the Team Hotel in Singapore|
Rahim Nabi: Are we that old? (The trio busts into laughter). I don’t think. There are others in the team, who too have played for the Senior Team for a long time.
Clifford Miranda: The concept really doesn’t exist. There are 9-10 players of the same age in the side who may be playing for a longer time than others. But it really doesn’t matter.
Mehtab Hossain: When you attack or defend, your rival never keeps in mind whether you are a Senior player or not. It’s just that some players, as Clifford said, have been playing for some more time than others. You need to be flexible enough to learn from all.
What was your first impression about Wim Koevermans?
Rahim Nabi: The first thing which struck me was his confidence on the players — maybe, had watched some old footage of the team. He stayed confident in our abilities. And he meant it.
Mehtab Hossain: He made us more cautious that Football stayed a team game. As individuals, we may be brilliant but we stay no good if we prefer to shine alone. You ought to credit him for that. He stayed unknown to us and it was vice versa. But there was an instant connect between us. You can ask the others too.
Clifford Miranda: When I heard about him, ‘Total Football’ struck me. So prior to meeting him, I had some pre-conceived notions. In our very first meeting he insisted on keeping the ball – that was expected as he is Dutch.
But besides being a Coach, he is a very nice human being. We all respect him for that.
What has changed in the National Camp?
Rahim Nabi: The players stay better and travel better. We are looked after much better. As for Koevermans, he has imparted a sense of discipline within the team. He is a caring coach who loves to check out every minute detail himself. He eats with the players, travels with the players and speaks to the players. Hence, the comfort level is much higher among all.
Mehtab Hossain: The philosophy has changed. The players stay more aware of their duties. We stay as a family. You cannot turn to individuals to win you matches every day. Even if you look at Barcelona, they play as a team than anyone else. Obviously, when you someone like Lionel Messi in your team, it helps.
Clifford Miranda: We are much more cohesive unit now. Not that, we weren’t in the past. But the sense of bonding is seen to be believed. All are willing to cooperate with each other irrespective of the club and region they come from.
Nabi had more to say. “I can certify it’s no more about the 11 players and the 3 substitutes. The bench who may not be playing in the match stays your support. That’s a very positive sign,” he added.
How hard do you expect Singapore to come at us?
Rahim Nabi: The match gives us the opportunity to understand where we stand. We’ve heard they are a very competitive side. We carry a lot of confidence into the match.
Mehtab Hossain: As players, you can at no time encourage a negative feeling to invade your mind. They will have the crowd support for sure. We need to stick to our strengths and help each other out. Eventually, the match will be played on the field between 11 players on each side.
Rahim Nabi: That’s Mehtab for you (and claps). Clifford smiles.
Clifford Miranda: They will be fast and we need to take them seriously. We will stick to the instructions. It is a very important match for India and it stays our responsibility to sustain the momentum of our last triumph.
Mehtab, you made a comeback into the National Team after a long gap for the Nehru Cup. Was it frustrating to sit outside?
Mehtab Hossain: Well, I didn’t sit out as I was a regular in all my club matches unless injuries kept me out. But in a sense, you cannot deny, it was frustrating a bit. The character of a player can be judged by the manner in which he responds when he’s out of favour. Maybe, I didn’t fit into the scheme of things – hence, I was not picked. My only option stayed to perform consistently and be aggressive. The Almighty answered my prayers. I thank Him for that.
Clifford, does the new style suit you more as a player?
As professional players, we have to adjust according to the instructions of the Coach we are playing under. I have enjoyed my football all throughout. If you look back, even in my club, we stress on possession. In that sense, my transition stays easier.
All of you form one of the most significant triangles on the field. It’s obvious you have a lot of confidence in each other. Where does it come from?
Rahim Nabi: It comes from the fact that we know each other personally as well as professionally. Mehtab is a fighter who will never give up while Clifford is always there when I need support. He is so crafty.
Mehtab Hossain: Nabi stays an asset for any team as he can play in any position. Tell me how many can do that? Off-course, we go back a long time as pals and out families stay close. But it’s football that has brought us together.
When I receive the ball on the field, I always turn to Clifford. If you look at him, you will never find him being inconsistent. The manner in which has never allowed his graph to descend is commendable indeed.
Clifford Miranda: Mehtab is someone who can lift up the spirits when the chips are down. He is someone who can switch at will and ‘hold’ at the same time. He allows the others the freedom to play freely.
Nabi stay omnipresent on the field. You will see him playing all over, ad as we all know, in every position.
Mehtab intervenes. “Nabi, have you ever played as a goalkeeper?” Prior to Nabi getting a chance to answer, Clifford and Mehtab exchange high-fives.
Clifford quips: “OK. We will test it today in practice.”
Mehtab had already dialed Subrata Pal by then.