Category: Interview

Current U16 Crop much better than what we were at their age, states Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

NEW DELHI: There has been a lot of attention on the Indian U-16 national team, especially with the exposure tours they have had. The colts being coached by Bibiano Fernandes have played 20 international friendlies against U-16 national teams since January 2018 and are presently gearing up for the AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018, which kicks-off in Kuala Lumpur from September 20.

We spoke to senior national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who has been a part of the Indian U-16 teams in the past and he feels the current crop are a whole lot better than what Sandhu and co used to be at their age. EXCERPTS:

You have represented India at AFC U-16 level? How were those days?

Every single day we would learn something new about the game. There was hunger to grow and evolve as better players. That was the first time we started to receive good coaching.

Let us know about your days at AIFF Academy.

Those were the days where I was still wondering if I will ever be a professional. Those were the days when I connected with the game and learnt about Indian football at large.

In comparison to previous batches, the current U-16 crop has been getting a lot of international exposure. Does that make you jealous?

(Laughs) I would say, maybe a bit (laugh again). Jokes apart, it’s a very positive development. If we would have that much exposure what they have been receiving at the moment, who knows things would have been much different. They are very lucky and need to make the most of it.


But overall, I’m very happy that they are getting such opportunities and that youth football is being taken so seriously. After all, they are our future.

Did you get any chance to have a look at them in any of the matches live streamed?

I have watched some of the highlights of their games. It is clear that quality wise, these boys are much better than what we used to be at that age. It makes me feel very proud. Things are changing and I am pretty positive.

There are quite a lot of boys in the U-16 team who idolise you.

I am humbled that they see me worthy of this. I am just a normal player who is trying to contribute to Indian football as much as I can. We are all part of one big family.

The U-16 boys are playing Vietnam, Iran and Indonesia at the group stage. What would be your message to them?

I would like them to be humble and stay united as a team. When you go in as a team, you can do things which no one can ever imagine. I hope they win these games and make us proud. Good luck boys!

We are in process of being the best the versions of ourselves: Bibiano

NEW DELHI: The Indian U-16 National Team has gone from strength to strength in recent times. Coming off the back of winning the four-nation Tournament in Serbia where the young colts finished Champions ahead of hosts Serbia, Jordan, and Tajikistan, the team will now be participating in another four-nation Tournament, this time in China.

Besides India, the tournament in China will also feature the U-16 National Teams of DPR Korea, Thailand and hosts China. In an exclusive interview, Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes spoke at length about the team’s preparation, the AFC U-16 Championship, the significance of exposure trips, and a lot more. EXCERPTS:

How is the team shaping up for the AFC U16 Championship?

We are in the process of being the best versions of ourselves keeping in mind the goal and working hard every single day. The boys have proven their mettle in Serbia and hopefully they will keep the same focus until the championship.

How important are the exposure trips?

These trips expose and introduce our boys to different styles of football from around the world. Usually our footballers do not get an opportunity to rub shoulders with teams from say, Europe and these trips give the boys the chance to do exactly that. In addition, when we start winning games in these exposures, the confidence and self-belief in the boys increased rapidly.

I need to thank AIFF and Sports Authority of India for arranging the same for us. The boys stay indebted to them.

You will be facing tough teams in China.

We are looking forward to this test. I am much more happy when we play stronger or older age-group teams as it is always a tougher challenge. It pushes us to perform to our best levels and in the process it help us to improve on all aspects. We know it is going to be a tough challenge in China, but we are ready for it.

Will it be physically challenging?

When it comes to foreign exposure trips, it is always physically challenging and we have been working on improving our own physical aspects as well. It will be interesting to see how our boys cope with that.

Adapting to different playing styles is the key: Bibiano Fernandes

DELHI: As the U-16 National Team left the Indian shores to compete in the four-nation International Tournament involving Jordan, Tajikistan, and hosts Serbia, Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes said “adapting to different styles of play has been the key for the boys.” In a freewheeling interview, Bibiano spoke at length about the significance of the tour, the biggest learning experience, areas of improvement, looking out for more boys and much more. EXCERPTS:

The boys are back after a vacation.

(Smiles). Yes, it was much needed. They deserved a break as they were away from home for long. They looked fresh in the five-day camp in Goa which we had prior to our departure to Serbia.

What is the significance of this tour to Serbia?

Every tour is important. It is allowing us to understand our mistakes, rectify it and build on our strengths. The tour to Serbia is all the more significant as we will be competing against Jordan and Tajikistan, both of whom have qualified for the AFC U-16 Finals. Playing against them will make us aware of the standard of play expected in the AFC U-16 Finals and help us understand where we actually stand.

What has been the biggest learning experience from the exposure tours?

Adaptability to playing against different playing styles has been the key. The playing styles in Europe are entirely different from what we experienced in Qatar, which was again different from what we experienced in Hong Kong. The boys are fortunate enough to learn and gauge all about it. So they won’t switch off when they get to play against new style in a match. They are much more prepared, both mentally and physically. The team is extremely grateful AIFF and SAI for arranging the tours for us.

What are the areas where you feel that you need to improve upon?

We need to improve on our finishing and we are working very hard on it. We are creating chances which is a good sign but it doesn’t mean anything unless you finish it off. Eventually that makes all the difference.

You are presently working with a bunch of boys. Are you still looking on for more options?

Despite the core team being there with me I am looking for options to strengthen the bench. It will give us the options if anyone succumbs to a last-minute injury. I am taking three new players to Serbia and once we are back, the boys on trial will come and join us for me to see them more on a regular basis.

I Wasn’t Aware That I’m The Youngest Goalscorer: Jitendra Singh

NEW DELHI: 16 years, 6 months and 13 days old defender Jitendra Singh became the youngest goalscorer in I-League when he scored for AIFF’s developmental team Indian Arrows against Shillong Lajong FC in their last match of the Hero I-League, a day after Christmas, a match which the Arrows eventually won 3-0.

Life hasn’t been the same for the sturdy defender since the FIFA U-17 World Cup and moments in I-League has provided Jitendra with ‘impeccable memories’, which he shares in an exclusive interview with EXCERPTS:

How does it feel to be the youngest goalscorer in the I-League?

Am I the youngest? I am not aware of that (smiles).

It is every player’s dream to score a goal. I was just in the right place to slot the ball home (against Shillong Lajong) and I did not even think about being the youngest goalscorer at that moment as I was doing my duty for the team.

It feels special to have my name in the record books but I am focused on my job which is to defend and contribute. Goals for defenders are rare and I am happy that I was able to score my first.

How has life been in I-League?

The I-League has been very challenging as it is the football of the next level when we play against some of the best club teams in the Country. Given the potential of players on the pitch, anything can happen at any given time and we need to be constantly on our toes and stay focused. Life has been tough in I-League but as they say – when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Is it hard defending against physically stronger opponents?

Defending against physical opponents is tough but that seldom enters my brain when I am on the pitch. It rarely affects me because when we step out into the arena the only goal is to give our all.

What has been the importance of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in your career?

We faced tough sides in USA, Colombia and Ghana and that helped in my progression as a defender. As a team, we developed more chemistry and more bonding with each other. The FIFA World Cup was a dream come true for me personally and I revere every second spent on the pitch in the mega event.

How helpful was it?

We learnt from our mistakes in the FIFA World Cup and we learnt how not to commit the mistake twice and that has helped us in our transition in I-League. We try to learn every day in training and try to be the best version of ourselves when we play in I-League.

I Can Only Dream To Be Like Messi, Says Naorem

NEW DELHI: Comparisons with Lionel Messi have been flowing in since wonder kid Nongdamba Naorem scored that magical goal for AIFF developmental Team Indian Arrows in I-League match against a strong Shillong Lajong FC.

“He is one of my idols,” he quips in a chat, refusing to get into any comparison. In a freewheeling interview, Naorem speaks at length about the ‘Messi-like’ goal, life in the Hero I-League, the technicalities learnt in the FIFA U-17 World Cup and a lot more. EXCEPRTS:

Your goal against Shillong Lajong was very ‘Messi- like.’

Lionel Messi is one of my idols. I can only dream to be like him. The movement for the goal just came naturally to me and it was all split second decisions which led me straight on to the goal. Had I made one decision wrong it would have been different. It was just one of those moments where I did everything right.

People have started comparing you with Lionel Messi.

Can there be any comparison. Every Footballer dreams about him. It is just a motivation for me to do better. It’s not my goal, it’s the goal for my team, the Arrows.

Indian Arrows are the youngest team in the Hero I-League. How has it been when playing older opponents?

One of the elements learnt from the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 was to deal with physically stronger opponents. That has helped us immensely in the Hero I-League. Yes, we are the youngest team but that also means that we can be the swiftest and the quickest. The experience of playing in a FIFA World Cup was immense as we can handle pressure a lot better now.

How challenging is it playing against professional players?

There are a lot of tussle and tackles and physical manipulations when we play against physically strong opponents. But all of that is a part of football. We learn from each match and every opponent. Playing in the Hero I-League is a dream come true for all of us. I need to thank AIFF for providing us the platform for us to mature into better players.

What is like playing in I-League?

Playing in I-League means we are under constant pressure from the best teams in India. It also means the opponents will try to close you down quickly.

How important has the FIFA U-17 World Cup been in your development?

The FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 unlocked a different part. It taught me to give my hundred percent on the pitch even while being under pressure. It made me understand, or rather all of us understand that anything is possible when you stay committed as a team. It evolved me into a much better player on and off the pitch.

Up-close with Lajong custodian Phurba Tempa Lachenpa

SHILLONG: Shillong Lajong has always produced creative set of football over the years in I-League. The mountainous side in-builded some cracking talents and from here Indian football took up a different improvising look.

Shilong Lajong began the new campaign in the I-League brightly after winning their first two home games. But then find themselves thrashed by East Bengal in the first away fixture of the 2017/18 campaign. In for a turn back sequence, they carried on their excellency by sharing a point against mighty Mohun Bagan and then winning the mountainous derby against Aizawl FC, the rivals who previously carried a descent record in this clash.

Here our correspondent Moinak Banerjee caught up with Lajong’s talented goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa, who started from the club’s academy and went on to wear the No 1 shirt this season, about the current proclamation they did in the league so far.

IndiaFooty: First of all Congratulations! Lachenpa! To you and your team for an excellent performance against Aizawl in the mountainous derby. Tell us how significant this victory was for your team?

Lachenpa: Thank you very much! For us this was an important victory as with this victory we are in top two in the table and it’s always great to win away from home and that’s also in a derby so we are glad that we got an important three points. Last year we lost the derby away to Aizawl so this was a great win for us.

IndiaFooty: Also you snatched a point out of a strengthened Mohun Bagan side and now a win against the Champions. What are these events declare about Shillong’s target in the new campaign?

Lachenpa: We are taking one game each by keeping the team’s goals to finish as good position as we can, but it’s too soon to tell but obviously we have dreams and it’s obviously the best after the league is over.

IndiaFooty: Was that defeat to East Bengal was sort of a turning point for you all? To gear up for rest of the games?

Lachenpa: We don’t think it was a turning point it’s just that we had a bad game and I-League is a competitive league so obviously some results are bound to go that way.

IndiaFooty: Last season Vishal Keith played a prominent role in between the sticks. Now he is playing for ISL. How do you feel to wear that jersey and as a contributor of your role?

Lachenpa: The club and the coach believed in me so there was no reason to take any pressure, I just had to play my natural game and I’m doing that and I have a long way to go ahead.

IndiaFooty: Some of the main players in Lajong’s squad departed either for ISL or chose playing for heavyweights in the I-League. How you all cope up with all of this for the preparation of this campaign? Was it a blessing for young starlets to shine on big stage?

Lachenpa: The club has one of the best youth setups in India and we as a player believed in the management and every year there are player coming out from academy and each player know each other well so there is nothing much to cope and talking about opportunity for young players Lajong has always given opportunity to young players, you can take for last few seasons we were the youngest squad so opportunity it’s always there for young players in Lajong whatever the circumstances are in Indian football.

IndiaFooty: Thank you Lachenpa it’s been a pleasure to converse with you in this delirious interview. Last of all, what do you want to exclaim about the state of Indian football?

Lachenpa: It’s my pleasure and as a player and football fan we just want best for the Indian football.

Exclusive: “People are crazy about football in Mizoram” says Aizawl FC’s defender Masih Saighani

AIZAWL: Masih Saighani is one of the signings that Champions Aizawl FC has done prior to the I league season to rebuild their shape in order to defend the title that the mountainous club won for the very first time in their history.

Aizawl also played deligantly in their local tournament, Mizoram Premier league and earned finalist spot.

So, for, Moinak Banerjee caught up with the Center back to know more about the glory tale and his views on Indian football.

Moinak: Congratulations Masih to you and your team Aizawl for the brilliant performance that you all showcased to be the finalist in the Mizoram premier league. So can we say that was step ahead for the preparation for the I league?

Masih: Thank u, first we all were disappointed because if you play a final you want to win it also , I think we was the better team but couldn’t score that day , Congrats again to chhienga veng if  you play constant like them you deserved to be the champion .

This MPL (Mizoram Premier league) season was very important for players to come in shape and play a lot of matches, the only problem was that there are just  two foreign players allowed so it was really not easy to prepare the I league and play same time the MPL. But we develop as a team and individual this time so it was very important for us also to reach the final.

Moinak: How did you see your I league triumph and this championship developing Mizoram football?Is this the true inspiration for the young talents uprising from this region?

Masih: It is my first time here in mizoram and wherever I go I see people who are crazy for sport and especially football, I saw a lot of really talented players, strong player fast and technical brilliant, this area is blessed with a lot of talent. For this region is a league like the MPL is very important but not just the MPL for 3 month to really develop these players need competition and training at least 8 month a year like in Europe and other parts in the world. Like I said before physically the player are strong but they have to work on the tactically basic, this is very important if you want to play one day in a top club, if you go with 20 and top skills to Europe for example and don’t know the basics of tactical football , discipline and organization you will be lost.
These are the things where they still have to improve I think.

Moinak: Impressive. So what are the projects of Aizawl that made you select the club?

Masih: Honestly I didn’t knew anything before of Aizawl Fc , even Indian football I didn’t followed. I just heard sometimes if a big name like Anelka or Berbatov moved to India. But if my agent told me there is a offer of I league champion, Aizawl Fc I researched about the club watched some videos and made my decision very fast . First a club which won the championship in a big country like India must be good. And second aspect was the fans , I really felt the power they have for this club and that their stand east behind the team and club . It’s a footballers goal and dream to play every home match in front of at least 15000 of their own supporters.

Moinak: You made a very interesting point there. The fans became the 12th man throughout the fairy tale that Aizawl invested. By the way, fans will cheer a lot about the start you made in the I league drawing 2-2 with Kolkata giants East Bengal in a tough opener to defend the title in the new season. Isn’t it?

Masih: Oh yes the fans are really important, they can make in a 50/50 match the different between loose or win. I think they will be our strength and advantage in home matches. And yes the support we got from our fans in Kolkata in the stadium was fantastic, also before the match and after I received a lot of mails and best wishes because of this game, thanks again to all Aizawl FC supporters.

Moinak: So a vital point against one of major title contenders in the opening game. Do you see this as an extra bit of motivation? And is there any different working mentality to begin this season when he have to defend your trophy?

Masih: Of course it was a very important point especially the way we got this point showed the character of Aizawl FC , if you are 2:0 back against a Indian football power house in their own stadium you must have character and team spirit to make a comeback like this. It’s not a motivation it showed that we are still strong even if a lot of key players from last season left us.
But I think teams like East bengal and Mohun bagan have much more pressure than we have . We train hard and give our best to defend the title, if we can it is great but the other two teams must win the title and there is the main difference.

Moinak: I admit. So Masih now that MPL is over. What you all are making up for the I league now? Is it the hunt for the title or a top four place acquisition?

Masih: I can’t say so much about what will happen in the next four month. I just can say we are  defending champions and we will behave and play like this of course we will give in every single training and match our level best. If it is enough at the end to defend the title or make a top four place we will see then, but as a footballer you go outside the pitch and try to win every match.

Moinak: I see. After a week gap, I league actions returns for Aizawl. Churchill Brothers is your next fixture on 13th. They are heading into this clash with no points on the board from the start and recently they had been hammered by Mohun Bagan. Will they will be easier to battle against following their performance to start the team’s preceding?

Masih: No I don’t think any game will be easy they just had two games and after two games you can say nothing about a team, we will play our style against every team and if we don’t play 100% focus and concentrate and think we can beat them easily because they lost two games we will have no chances against them or any other team.

Moinak: Thank you Masih! Its been a pleasure to speak with you. For the conclusion what do you want to tell about the development of Indian football?

Masih: What I saw here in Aizawl, so much talent makes me really happy, I think India football will have a great future if they continue develop like this. I am proud and happy to play in a country with so many nice , kind and polite people which share the love for football with me. At the beginning it was a bit difficult to adjust but now I feel comfortable here and just love it.

For an away team, we created lots of chances: Coro

GOA: When you have a Spanish forward under a Spanish coach and with more Spaniards in the midfield, you can just sit back and enjoy the magic. Ferran Corominas Telechea, Manuel Lanzarote and Eduardo Bedia Pelaez showed glimpses of that magic at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Sunday afternoon and also helped FC Goa overcome a fighting Chenniyin FC 3-2 in a thrilling encounter. It was also a special moment for Corominas who became the first goal scorer in ISL Season 4 after two draws in the first two days.

In a quick chat after the win, Corominas said that he was more happy with the win than his personal milestone. He was also all praise for his fellow Spaniard Lanzarote, who scored the second goal of the match and local boy Mandar Rao Desai for his clinical finish to put his team 3-0 ahead in the first 45 minutes.

Excerpts from the interview:

How does it feel to become the first goal scorer of ISL Season 4?

I’m very happy to score the first goal of the season this year and get on the scoresheet but finally what matters is that the team pleayed well and we have three points on the board.

After two goalless draws in the first two days you opened the scoring and your team pumped in two more, what was the gameplan when you took the field?

Well, we continued on from the same idea that we’ve been playing with for the past few months and followed our style of play of keeping possession and creating chances. For an away team, we created lots of chances and ended up scoring three.

In the first two games it was seen that the foreign players and the Indian players were not gelling well, but that didn’t look like a problem with FC Goa, your comment.

I think fatigue was true for our game too. We are playing in humid conditions and with a lot of heat so it’s only normal that players take on fatigue. The quality of play in the second half wasn’t as high as a result. But the efforts and hard work that we had put during our practice sessions gave us the win.

A word on Manuel Bruno’s goal, wasn’t that a beauty?

Lanza and Mandar’s goals were very important as they gave us the tranquillity of a three goal lead. Lanza’s goal was one of real quality and Mandar’s was a great counter attack with a good finish.

It’s like a group of brothers playing together: Jhingan

NEW DELHI: Perhaps none knows that Sandesh Jhingan cried as a 17-year old when India lost to Bahrain in the Doha 2011 Asian Cup.In a freewheeling interview, Jhingan travels down memory lane to the day while speaking about his love for the National Team, his self-assessment as a player, the aim at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, defending as a Team, the ‘special back-four’ and much more. EXCERPTS:

Personally, what does qualification to the Asian Cup mean to you?

It’s a big achievement for the Country as it’s a continuous process of growth of Indian Football after the last qualification in Doha 2011. Our priority from now on is to improve and try to dominate in Asia as the Asian Cup provides us with the chance to play the bigger teams. To improve we need to learn the dominance and there is still a lot of work to be done for that.

Did you follow the Doha 2011 Asian Cup?

The last time India played in Doha (in 2011), I was a 17-year old boy and remember crying after our loss to Bahrain — a match which I felt we could have won. It was an emotional moment for a boy who was in love with the National Team and the other day in Bengaluru, it was a special moment when we qualified.

What next?

The job is not done yet. This is the first step which we have achieved because we will travel to UAE not just to participate. Rather, we need to make it to the next round for which, I reiterate, we need to work harder.

What do you attribute the unbeaten streak of the National Team to?

The biggest character of this team stays that we never give up. If you look back, we had a bad run initially but since then we have been able to turn around and it has to be attributed to the mental strength of the team.The unity in the squad is commendable, it’s like a group of brothers playing football together. That’s the understanding which we have and it’s very vital for us.

Within 2 years of making your international debut, you have earned the title of ‘Mr. Dependable.’ How much have you improved as a player?

(Smiles). The fans have been a huge support and I need to thank them for that.

But I feel it’s still a long way for me to improve as a player. I still need to work harder. Obviously, I have improved my fitness immensely and whether I have improved as a player, maybe the Coach and the others can comment. All I know is that the road is long.

The defensive back four has played a major role in taking India to this level.

I think it’s not just about the back four. If you look at the match against the Kyrgyzstan, there was a moment when Eugeneson Lyngdoh tackled in our own box which otherwise could have enabled them to score. We also have Halicharan Narzary running up and down the flanks in every match to help our side-backs.

Actually, it’s collective work with one covering up for the other. The whole team does that, so it’s not right to solely credit the back four for the defending.

What’s special about the four?

It’s the blind trust which we have amongst ourselves. Pritam Kotal, Narayan Das and I have been playing together since our U-23 days and it’s been quite a long time. Inadvertently the understanding has grown over the years, but for example, in a match, I ask anyone of the back four to turn, he will do it instantly without even thinking and I will reciprocate in the same manner if they tell me too.

Everyone deserves credit including the bench: Sandhu

NEW DELHI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the first Indian Footballer to play in the UEFA Europa Cup feels the team has “become stronger as a unit with every passing game.” In a freewheeling interview, Sandhu speaks at length about the significance of qualifying to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, the changes in the squad, the resilient back-four, the art of defending and much more. EXCERPTS:

What does it mean for you to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019?

The last time in 2011 I was in the squad and it was a huge experience for me. Since then, qualifying for another edition of the AFC Asian Cup had been a priority for me.

The Asian Cup is a stage where you would want to play in your career simply because you get to play against the best in Asia, all of whom are very talented players. It’s the platform from where you can learn a lot to mature as a player.

What has changed in the squad in the last 12 months?

I think we have become stronger as a unit with every passing game. The work rate has been exceptional and the biggest plus point stays that we have been consistent for the last 12 months. The results are ample proof of that.

The Goalkeeper and the back four’s contribution often goes unnoticed. What are the strengths of India’s back four?

Such is the nature of the game (laughs aloud), but I need to put this straight. Our good run cannot be attributed to just the back four or the goalkeeper or the midfielders or the strikers. The whole team needs to be credited including the bench. In all of our games, we have defended together as a team and have stayed patient for our breakthroughs.

Which has been the most satisfying victory in recent times?

To me the away victory against Myanmar followed by the victory against the Kyrgyzstan in Bengaluru will always stay on the top of the list (so far). Both Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic are extremely good sides who are very difficult to play against. Victories in those two matches put us in a very advantageous position to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.