| Bhaichung Bhutia takes a break from practice at the Salt Lake Stadium Wednesday. Pictures by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: While the AIFF is veering towards acquiring one or more physical trainers from the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS), East Bengal’s South African physical trainer Kevin Jackson makes no bones about how peeved he is that some of his wards had to “sit through six hours of lectures” at the AIFF’s fitness programme here.
The two programmes — AIFF’s sports medicine programme Fitness for Football at the SAI, Eastern Centre, and Jackson’s programme for the East Bengal players — clashed. But the general feeling around is that the two aren’t much different. While Jackson is more hands-on, and pushing the players into a “focussed zone”, as he puts it, the AIFF programme is more into teaching and setting up a system that will one day produce results.
To that extent, Jackson has a point. “I want to get these players to win, to produce results now,” he says. “This job can’t wait. And anyway, I would have done the same tests. Moreover, I did not quite like the way they have conducted the ‘beep’ tests (for stamina).
“Mahesh Gawli, for example, produced more than 14, but he was asked to stop and not asked to go ahead and give the best he can. I believe he could have done 16, and that would have been a record for himself, a standard that his teammates could then follow.”
| Kevin Jackson
Jackson also said that he was totally unaware of the AIFF programme and “nobody had told me that some of my wards would be called up. This creates unnecessary pressure and makes things difficult for me.” Asked if he had gone to see the AIFF programme, he said he had “no interest” in that.
East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick, though, said as far as he was concerned the AIFF programme did not but into East Bengal’s. “Kevin is a professional, his feelings are different,” said Bhowmick. “When I was approached I felt that it was necessary in national interest that some of my players participate in the AIFF programme. Yes, it is basically the same worldwide, but when an initiative has been taken one should take it forward.”
Interestingly, while Bhowmick has shown the initiative to attend the AIFF programme, none from Mohun Bagan has cared, showing utter disrespect for the very game of football the club has gained fame from.
Bhaichung Bhutia said the two programmes — Jackson’s and AIFF’s — were different. “Here, at East Bengal, it is more practical, while the AIFF programme was more of tests and all that. Both are needed, though for the best result.”
The AIFF programme has been a pioneering effort in the country and national coach Stephen Constantine and Dr Vece Paes have been able to set up the initiative with the AIFF and money from different programmes of the AFC and Fifa. The general practices are not novel, but on standard, internationally accepted lines. Hence what Jackson does is what the AIFF wants to do.
Paes said the tests have indicated that “it was necessary to concentrate on the development of the lower and mid portions of the players. That is where we fall behind.” National coach Constantine echoed similar sentiments.
“Look, against China at the Busan Asian Games, we proved ourselves. We proved that we were not behind in stamina and speed. But having paced the Chinese through the length of the field, our players did not have the final burst strength required to take that powerful volley at goal. These schedules will programme the players to gain the necessary power,” he said.
Hence the need for foreign trainers, a la Jackson. No, nobody from the AIFF approached him for the trainer’s job. Paes said it would “most probably be somebody from the AIS, because it has a good standing. This, though depends on the AIFF considering the budget for that. We have also identified local trainers who can be trained by the experts and can then carry on the work.”
Another issue on which there has been consensus is that the state leagues and tournaments will have to be planned in a way so as not to overburden the national players (there were 46 at this camp). “That is a priority,” said Paes. “While it is controllable in Calcutta because there is a Super Division, the clubs must stop participating in the peripheral meets with their top players.”
Constantine was more forthright: “The state leagues must be pared down to a minimum,” he said. “It does not help. Make them for juniors. Also, there has to be less foreigners in the national system. When I look at the 12 top teams’ striker force, I come up with maybe 20 foreigners among the 24. That narrows my choosing scope for the national team. Hence, in national interest, maybe the AIFF should reduce the number of foreigners in clubs.
JCT’s Jo Paul Ancheri said he thought the AIFF programme was good and that he would have no problem following it up at his club. All players have been given CDs as well as hard copies (with illustrations) to follow up back home.
Meanwhile, Paes also said that the AIFF wants to conduct compulsory dope tests in all matches of the National Football League this year. This has been the AIFF’s plan for long, running into roadblocks every time.
Now the federation wants to call one player from each side to undergo dope test, said Paes, who is chairman of the sports medicine programme of the AIFF.
Local league not on mind
Bhowmick also said that as of now, he was not even thinking about local football matches and even the local league. “I am concerned about East Bengal’s ASEAN Cup engagements and I prepare accordingly.” Even the IFA’s one-day soccer festival fails to enthuse Bhowmick.
A Liberian forward Fernando practised with East Bengal for the second day Wednesday. But Bhowmick wasn’t too serious. “I have been given this player and I am yet to see him in action. No decisions before that.”