It was the first official International tournament for the current India U-15 Men’s side, but the boys churned out one result after another, winning all of their five 2019 SAFF U-15 Championship matches at the Kalyani Stadium, in West Bengal.
In doing so, they amassed an impressive 28 goals in those five games without conceding a single goal themselves! The newly-crowned South Asian U-15 Champions have announced themselves on the international stage, but the coaching staff has been putting in the work behind this well-oiled machine for a long time.
“Every team-building process must start with scouting,” said India U-15 Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes. “We started before February in the Subroto Cup. Then there was the Hero Junior League, and along with that, we had open trials in many states. I personally oversaw some of the trials, while (Assistant Coach) Kanan (Priolkar) also scouted in some states.”
It was but a year ago, when Bibiano Fernandes and his coaching staff had brought through the previous batch of U-16 players, who managed to equal India’s best finish in the AFC U-16 Championship, making it to the quarter-finals, where they lost out by a single goal to Korea Republic.
However, in the ever-changing environment of football, the India U-16 side coaching staff sat down in introspection of their previous campaign, marking out the creases that needed to be ironed out.
“It’s been a very long process. Thanks to all the exposure tours organised by AIFF, we now have better idea about how to build the team after the AFC U-16 Championship in Malaysia last year. As a coaching staff, we now had the experience in terms of what kind of a team and what type of players we need to play at the continental level,” said Fernandes.
Having that experience, we knew exactly what we need. Looking back and learning from the mistakes that we made the last time round was also an important part of that journey,” he continued.
“I am sure in another 5-6 years, we will have a much better team than what we have right now.”
‘LOOKOUT FOR TECHNICAL PLAYERS’
The Head Coach further went on to explain that he and his staff prefers technical players, who can think on their feet, and have built the team around that centralised capability.
“We are always on the lookout for technical players, who have intelligence and speed, in terms of decision-making and creativity. Along with that, if we can get some physical players, it really helps us on the pitch. But the primary criteria is speed of thought, and not physicality,” said Fernandes.
However, even though he build the team around the central idea of free-flowing, creative football, Bibiano had not imagined the team putting out such an expansive display in the SAFF Championship.
“I did not expect so many goals, but I knew that this group has a capability of scoring goals because we have good some very good forwards. Our other offensive players are also capable of providing them with ample support in attack,” he said.
In fact, even Alex Ambrose, who the Coach of the India U-17 Women’s Team also chipped in with a few talented players that he spotted while scouting for his own side.
“Alex also helped out a lot in the scouting process. He was himself scouting for the U-17 Women’s Team for the World Cup next year, but he also found a few players for this team in the process. I had told him what kind of players we were looking for, and he really helped out,” said Fernandes.
Summing up, it’s a well-oiled scouting system, all part of the same family.
“The scouting process has really helped out coaches like me, because we had not really been reaching out to players in various areas before. Then comes the preparation, when we went to Italy for our first exposure and then to Thailand ahead of the SAFF Championship,” he further said.
FROM SCOUTING TO TEAM-BUILDING
The scouting process may have taken up the coaching staff’s first few months, but Bibiano’s boys soon had to move on to the next stage – getting the team ready for the big tournaments coming up ahead.
With the SAFF Championship conquered, the team is now prepared to set its sights on the AFC U-16 Qualifiers, where they have been clubbed together in Group B, alongside Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Turkmenistan.
However, the preparation for this moment started at the beginning of the year, when the team travelled to Italy, where they played against some tough opposition like USA, Mexico, Slovenia and Qatar.
“When we came back, we knew where exactly we have to strengthen the squad. And then again, we got in some of the scouted players,” said Bibiano. “After the scouting process was done, we went to Thailand to test ourselves, which was also very helpful. It was after the Thailand tour, that we knew that this team was ready for competitive international football at this age category.”