The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bob works a miracle

Hyderabad: Two years ago, when Robert Douglas Houghton flew down to New Delhi to appear for an interview for the job of India’s chief football coach, the national team was in complete shambles.

The team at that time had just conceded nine goals in two matches against Japan and Yemen. The coach was shown the door while the captain constantly talked about quitting international football.

Today, the scenario is totally different. Never before in the recent past, has the Indian team looked like a happy, well-knit family as it is now. The success of the last 12 months has brought a sea change in the attitude of the players and the team in general.

While the majority feels that Bob Houghton remains the driving force behind the team, the British coach is too humble to accept the compliment.

“The consistency level of the team is certainly high,” he said. “It has come because of two reasons.

“Firstly, I have got a bunch of highly committed boys. They are a wonderful lot. Secondly, for the first time after coming to India, I got these boys together for a long period. It is almost like a club team now, which remains together for the entire season.”

Like everyone else, Houghton, too, was delighted to reach the third straight final, but did not forget to sound a warning. “Things are going fine but to improve really and consistently, one really needs to restructure the domestic football,” he said.

Footballers, on the other hand, are grateful to Houghton for showing them the way to come of out of the rut.

“We were stuck in our own little world, before Houghton came,” said Sunil Chhetri, whose memorable goal took India to the final of the AFC Challenge Cup on Thursday.

“Technically, he turned us into a far better lot but what is more important is that he taught us to dream big,” the diminutive striker said.

Former India captain and the manager of the team, Pradeep Chowdhury said, “we had 11 names in the panel, but he was at the top of our list because of his experience and impressive track record. We were confident that given some time, he would deliver the goods.”

But will the AIFF ask the coach to continue till 2011 now that he has managed to take the team to the final rounds of the Asian Cup? Given the track record of the national federation, all one can do is to keep fingers crossed.

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