GOA: Managing India’s U-17 team is not the easiest of tasks, as Nicolai Adam found out the hard way. His replacement Luis Norton de Matos has been in charge only for a few days. If he had any illusions about how tough his job would be, those will have disappeared on Wednesday.
Their game against Minerva Punjab FC was supposed to be a tough physical workout for the U-17 team, and that it was. But it was also the first real glimpse of what De Matos would bring to the table. His job was always going to be tough, considering he has less than eight months to impose his philosophy and methods on the team. Going by what was on display at the Trinity Ground in Benaulim, it is going to be a bit harder.
That the U-17 team lost 1-0 should not be much of a concern, for the Minerva team featured a few older players. The goalscorer on the night Baoringdo Bodo is 17 and recently became the youngest player to score in the I-League. Bedeshwor Singh has also made his I-League debut. But there were warning signs nonetheless.
The word that De Matos and his rather vocal assistant Hugo Maartens used the most was ‘press’. Their wards did press, but evidently not enough. At one point, De Matos even gesticulated wildly to his Indian assistant. “Mario, tell the kids to press,” as the assistant screamed out in Hindi. The language was bound to be a barrier for De Matos, and at times, it looked like he was having trouble getting his message across. Late into the match, Maartens took a ball and held it so the kids could see and pressed it hard. “See, press!”
Another instance where it seemed obvious that communication was going to be a problem for De Matos when he shouted to his goalkeeper to punt the ball long to ‘Abu’ and ‘Ali’, presumably nicknames he had for players. The keeper stood blankly as ‘Mario’ again came into play. “Pass it to Abu and Ali,” the assistant repeated. The goalkeeper stood confused for a second before responding ‘who’s Abu?’. On the sidelines, De Matos looked down and shook his head.
As for playing style, there were plenty of long balls, though it was quite clear from their shouts of ‘keep the ball’ that it was not what De Matos and Maartens wanted. Justifiably so, for 20 days is no time to impose a playing style on a team of kids. But perhaps, the biggest change was in De Matos himself. Gone was the smiling, genial man, he had looked like on the day of his unveiling. Instead, De Matos shook his head more times than his boys created chances.
There was plenty of the arms-lifted-in-exasperation pose and a bit of grumbling in Portuguese. And towards the end, as his boys ended up in a scuffle with the Minerva team, there was even a rant of ‘this is what happens when you have a crazy coach!’.
It remains to be seen what De Matos does from here. He might choose to freshen up his squad, as his post-match interaction with a few of the Minerva players suggested. He has already scheduled a trip to Portugal and may slot in a few more before the U-17 World Cup. But whatever it is, he will need to do it soon. Time is running out!