#BehindTheGame: In Conversation with Grassroots Coach – Naresh Virnodkar
Goa as has consistently produced top football talent for a long time now. Various players of Goan origin have represented the country at international level and are sporting legends in India in their own right. With the interest in football sky-rocketing due to the emergence of the Indian Super League , FC Goa – the state’s only representation in the ISL – has started a one-of-a-kind programme to find emerging talent from a very young crop.
In order to shine a light on this programme, we met Mr. Naresh Virnodkar, a grassroots coach who supervises the U-10 centres in Mapusa. Here are excerpts from a chat with him.
Q: What is the main objective of the grassroots programme?
A: At its very core, the objective of the programme is to find the next Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai and help them become top players for the state, the franchise, and the country.
Q: What kind of qualities are you looking at instilling and developing in these players?
A: I employ a pressing technique where the players are encouraged to press high up in an attempt to win the ball quickly. I want to see young, attacking players go for the ball. Also at this level, children have the tendency to break position and just chase the ball. Therefore, it is essential to teach them how to hold their position. During training, I carefully assess their individual strengths play them on the field accordingly.
Q: Does this pressing technique work when playing tougher opponents?
A: Each game is different. While I prefer to employ this pressing technique, if my team is playing a superior opponent, I instruct them to sit back and soak in the pressure and hit the opponents on the counter. It’s easier to build play this way.
Q: Who do you look to for inspiration on an international level?
A: I watch a lot of German football, most of all Bayern Munich. They’re an aggressive team who play a lot of possession football and attack the ball. I greatly admire Arjen Robben, but as a coach, my philosophy is similar to that of Jurgen Klopp. Armando Colaco, on a national level, is another coach I admire. He’s the only one who has 5 I-league titles to his credit.
Q: How much further do you think we need to progress to reach world class competence in the sport?
A: It is going to take some time. First of all, we need to make these kids play a lot more. They need to be consistently immersed in the game to build on their strengths and evolve as players. U-8, U-10 and U-12 kids need to be brought in to play more frequently, transforming the sport from a mere hobby to a serious lifestyle choice. These tournaments need to start sometime in September and go on till January to allow for sufficient play time. Players need to be involved in at least 10-12 matches a season. This will help in progression, as the younger they start, the better they will be. It doesn’t hurt that the younger they are, the more malleable their skills.
The reception to the first edition of the Junior Gaurs League was exceptional. Going forward, the club hopes that in following editions of the tournament, the response amplifies further.