The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘People cheering a fit team is the kick’
- East Bengal trainer Kevin Jackson rues lack of extended off-ball training

Siliguri: It’s been four months since trainer Kevin Jackson came down from South Africa and into the soccer craze of East Bengal and Calcutta. More than what he has taught the players of the club, Jackson himself has learned a tome. Starting with rugby and cricket back home, he is now “150 per cent involved in football”,

“I have had to research, read up, surf the net, get data. I believe being a professional entails all this,” says Jackson. There was no identity issue that followed him here. “Look, we are supposed to be the backroom boys for the stars onfield, doing our bit so they can excel. It is the people cheering an extremely fit team that gives us our kicks. Also, there was never in me this expectation of recognition, because back home we don’t get any.

“When Adrian le Roux joined the Indian cricket team, and then quit to go back to his home team, there was hardly any media talk about it back home,” said Jackson. “It is big news here, but in South Africa, very little. Hence when I get this recognition here, it makes me feel good, but I refuse to let it go to my head. There was this day, when I and my fiancee Jacolette were dining at China Town and a host of people came around, at our table, talking. Then they asked for my mobile number, and I said no. I draw the line there.”

That is the attitude thing. In East Bengal, he has seen and admired Bhaichung Bhutia. “He has a mature head on his shoulders,” he says. “He knows what is good for him and his game, his career, and is bent on getting to his goal, no matter what. He hits the gym (especially in off-season) and he does his practice, and he controls his diet and look where he is.”

Not that he has any complaints about the other players in the team. “There has definitely been good improvement in them, physically. They are reasonably fit. I cannot do anything about the basic structure of an average Indian player, but I can certainly work around the lean muscle (which is good, look at Shylo Malsawmtluanga, his size and energy) levels and around the strength that muscle can develop for endurance and power. That has been where I have concentrated.” What he has missed is an extended period of training, off-ball.

“I would like to have a good bit of time with the players when soccer would be the last thing on their minds. They have played far more than is prescribed, and it would be nice to work now on their physique, before more soccer,” he said.

Ideas abound. It is necessary, he says to control diet, bring in more sports food supplements (a few of which are available in India, like ANS Sports). “Food here is in liquid form and easily digestible. It isn’t the best thing for a footballer to get up from a heavy meal and go into practice. Also, there is need for more protein in the diet, as well as controlled intake of carbohydrates.

“What I managed to achieve in the limited time I got at the Hyatt in Calcutta showed what these same players can do. I would have loved to get that full one month, but some other programme (an AIFF effort with Stephen Constantine and Dr Vece Paes) interfered,” he said. “You have seen the fitness of the team then. Now if the team is faltering, I believe it is because exhaustion is setting in. Time off is essential now.”

Jackson speaks from a professional’s point of view. Indian soccer, though, has yet to enter the organised realm. It leaves much to subjective treatment and schedules are made to be changed. Also, there is the question of ground conditions. “Yes, in the Federation Cup, the ground (Salt lake Stadium) was horrible and we (Bhaichung included) refused to play. There was much talk of this then, but when the East Bengal ground recently was in better shape, with even grass around, the referee calls off the match,” he said. “That’s not being consistent.

“I see big things for this club,” he says. “There is immense potential, only we need that gym we got at the Hyatt (though I am yet to see any Olympic standard gym in the country), and we need all what is very basic abroad. If we could beat a team that are finalists in the AFC Champions League, we can do more.” He needs that elbow space, he says, and equipment.

First priority, though, for Jackson, is the Afro-Asian Games. Much of the Indian contingent comprises East Bengal players, and therein he sees opportunity to weave his magic in.

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