Category: Interview

Players need to utilise opportunity to cement place in squad: Chhetri

NEW DELHI: ‘Talismanic’ Captain Sunil Chhetri feels the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 will help in understanding “where we lie as players and areas we need to improve.” As the Senior National Team prepares in Mumbai for India’s forthcoming AFC Asian Cup Qualifier against Myanmar slated for November 14, Chhetri, the highest Indian goal scorer in International Football with 55 goals spoke at length about future megastars of Indian Football, the last two years with Indian Football, the road forward and even his “regrets.” EXCERPTS:

You have played a major role in qualification to two AFC Asian Cups for India. Where do you rate it in your illustrious career?

It will be among the highest achievements. The memories of Doha 2011 will stay with me forever. It’s the top-most tournament in Asia and qualification was not just on my priority list, but for the entire squad. But I do have regrets too.


(Takes a deep breath) The last time when we couldn’t qualify for the 2015 edition which was held in Australia. I was really very sad. The regrets of not qualifying still linger and if anybody is to be blamed, it had to be us — the players.

What will the 2019 edition of the AFC Asian Cup provide for Indian Football?

It will help us in gauging ourselves as to where we lie as players and the areas we need to improve. That’s of paramount importance as Indian Football moves forward. The movement forward needs to be a continuous process and the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 will allow us to rub shoulders with the best in Asia.

There has been the arrival of a new breed of players in the National Team like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Udanta Singh amongst others. Are they the next megastars of Indian Football?

I really hope so. I will always put my money on them. In fact, I will be very disappointed if the trio doesn’t dominate Indian Football for the next decade. I also hope they get tough competition, with the U-17 and the U-16 squads pushing them further. Those batches are doing well for us too.

The present team is a new set playing together for 2 years now. What do they need to better themselves as players?

Maybe the Coach and the respective players can answer it better as to how they can improve as players.

But yeah, the players need to improve and that has always been my mentality. There is a lot of potentials which stays unachieved and if isn’t attained, it’s Indian Football’s loss.

For an outside point of view, I hope the players utilise their opportunity to cement their place in the squad. At the same time, there always needs to be a healthy competition from the bench to take the places in the starting XI. The process will only help Indian Football to get further stability.

Which has been your most satisfying moment in the last two years with the National Team?

It may sound weird but the triumph in the SAFF Cup was very significant. We were severely hit by injuries and missed a lot of seasoned pros. Winning with newcomers was indeed satisfying. Moreover, it was all about the rivalry with Afghanistan and had they won it, they would have taken the title forever.

In addition, the victory against the Kyrgyzstan in Bengaluru was special too. They are a very good side and we had to dig deep. I have since watched the match many times and feel proud every time about the manner it was achieved.

India will play for win against Turkmenistan: Matos

DAMMAM (SAUDI ARABIA): The Indian U-19 will look to end their AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers with a win as the young colts face bottom-placed Turkmenistan in their last match of Group D at the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahad Stadium here, tomorrow (November 08, 2017). The kick-off for which is at IST 6:30 PM.

In a detailed chat with AIFF Media, Head Coach of the Indian U-19s, Luis Norton de Matos talks about the side’s performance against Yemen, India’s campaign so far and a lot more. EXCERPTS:

How do you reflect on India’s performance against Yemen?

It was a good performance against Yemen and it could have been perfect if we had got the win. We have to take our chances in the final third and score goals. We had three to four clear goal-scoring opportunities against Yemen and if we could have taken them we would have been deserved winners. We need to buckle up and be clinical in front of goal.

What was the strategy against Yemen?

We wanted to dominate Yemen in the midfield and we were able to achieve that. The players gave a good fight to the Yemen midfield and were also able to create goal scoring opportunities for our forwards. In defence, we stayed strong and played as a single unit which helped us to keep Yemen at bay.

Turkmenistan lost 0-1 against Saudi Arabia. What are you expecting from Turkmenistan tomorrow?

Turkmenistan are an aggressive team going forward and they have lost both their matches so far. They will be playing for a win for their pride and we will be doing the same. We will be playing for a win and looking to end the qualifiers on a positive note. However, we still need to stay focused and concentrate on the pitch as Turkmenistan proved (with their 0-1 loss against Saudi Arabia) that they are not an easy team to play against. They will give us a very hard fight till the end.

How will you sum up India’s campaign so far?

We are building a team for the future and if you look, against Yemen, 9 U-17 players played and dominated at certain spells of the game. Imagine the potential that this team will have in the next two years. There is a long way to go, however, we need to believe that the results will not be visible immediately but will take some time to show. We need to believe in the process of developing players.

Indian U19s are a work in progress: Matos

DAMMAM (SAUDI ARABIA): After going down 5-0 against hosts Saudi Arabia in their opening encounter of Group D of the AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers, the Indian U-19 National Team gear up to face Yemen at the Prince Mohammad bin Fahad Stadium in Dammam, Saudi Arabia tomorrow (November 06, 2017). The kick-off for which is slated for IST 6:30PM.

Head of the Indian U-19s Luis Norton de Matos labelled the Indian team as a “work in progress” and in exclusive chat with, the Portuguese talked at length about the progress, India’s next opponents Yemen and a lot more. EXCERPTS:

How do you reflect on the 5-0 loss against Saudi Arabia?

We knew that Saudi Arabia is a very strong and the fact that they (Saudi Arabia) are hosts added to it. The played on a very high level yesterday and pressed very well to squeeze us out. Their midfield was very composed as compared to ours and we failed to keep possession.

Our team is a work in progress and we have some players who are 2001 born in the camp. We are focusing on building for the future. Exposing these players to high level International tournaments is very important in their development.

Where did India lack?

We lost the ball in transition and were unable to keep our defensive discipline when Saudi Arabia attacked. We also failed to keep the ball and complete our passess, they (Saudi Arabia) having a physically stronger side out-muscled us in almost every duel.

How do you rate India’s next opponents Yemen?

It will be a tough clash against Yemen as they are a side which are very quick on the counter-attacks. We need to rectify our mistakes and concentrate on the tomorrow’s match if we are to get a positive result. Yemen is a team which is on our level and we will search for a win against them. We believe that we can give Yemen a very stern fight.

Will it be a challenge for the team to recoup after a loss in the opening match?

The attitude of the players is fantastic and the boys are working hard in training. It will not be a challenge to recoup but at the same time, the loss against Saudi Arabia will help us to correct our mistakes. We have a young team and a young team must learn what International football is like, mentally recouping is also part of that process. It is important to lose to identify the problems and rectify them for better output.


NEW DELHI: A fighter on the pitch and a smiling face off it, Jeakson Singh could probably be called the ‘gentle giant’. Towering at 6 ft, the midfielder was included in the Indian U-17s after being scouted from the Minerva Academy. In an in-depth interview, Jeakson talks at length about his journey, the Indian U-17s, the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 India and a lot more. EXCERPTS:


Tell us something about your journey


I come from a family of athletes. My father used to play almost every sport and my mother used to be a basketball player, so sports was something which was already there in our family. However, there was a small ground near to our house and that is where I used to play football in my early days. My brother and my friends used to play football there every day and hence I started to play with them and gradually fell in love with the sport.


Was the journey to the Indian U-17 World Cup Team tough?


It was tough but it was exciting and at sometimes it taught me to always think about the bigger picture in life. There is a lot more forces at play in life than just what we see. The journey made me who I am today and I am thankful to AIFF for helping me throughout the process.


How excited are you for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 India?


I am honored to be a part of the Indian U-17 World Cup squad and I will do my best on the pitch. I think excited is an understatement to what I feel right now, I just want the FIFA U-17 World Cup to arrive and start playing.


How special is the bond between you and Amarjit Singh?


Amarjit is my cousin and my father used to coach both of us in football when we were very young. I share a very brotherly bond with him, we have helped each other along the way. There were times when he was my inspiration and motivated me to perform better in football.

Constantine is walking on Joachim Low’s path- IM Vijayan


NEW DELHI: The ‘Black Buck’ of Indian Football, IM Vijayan, currently a Government observer of the Indian National Team believes that Stephen Constantine is walking on the same path as Germany’s World Cup winning coach Joachim Low.

In an interview, Vijayan speaks at length about Constantine’s speciality as a coach, the 35 debutants in over 30 months, Team India’s record winning streak and much more. “If you are complacent, you will dig your own grave,” is his direct message to Team India prior to the match against Macau. EXCERPTS:

35 players have made Senior National Team debut under Stephen Constantine. How do you see that?

It shows his courage and belief on his boys. Handing debut to 35 players over the course of the 30 months isn’t something which you would see every day in the International Football.

There were 10 U-23 boys in the preparatory Camp in Mumbai out of which three — Manvir Singh, Nikhil Poojary and Anirudh Thapa went on to make their Senior Team debut. Not to forget that Jerry Lalrinzuala, another U-23 player had already made his debut much prior. It speaks about Stephen’s guts and it would obviously push his players to deliver on the bigger stage.

How will it help in the long run?

Look at the last edition of the Confederations Cup and you will get your answer. Germany coach Joachim Löw preferred a team with an average age of 24 years and went on to win the Tournament. Constantine is walking on the same path.

How would the 10-match unbeaten spree (including 9 wins) help the boys gain confidence before the AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Macau?

Mark my words, the 9 consecutive victories (including the win in the unofficial match against Bhutan) is bound to get make the rival team a bit concerned. But the danger stays that in such a situation, the team tends to get a bit carried away and be complacent. In that case, you will dig your own grave.

You have played under Stephen Constantine. How is he special?

I need not describe it as the results are visible in front of everyone. From my experience of playing under him, I can say that his ideology is simple – ‘Go, fight and win.’ He is someone who can make you win – it’s a quality that not all Coaches possess. He studies his players minutely to know their limitations and skill set, and eventually churns the best out of a player. You need to credit him for this.

Bembem Devi dedicate her Arjuna Award to women of India


NEW DELHI, 22nd August 2017: Bembem Devi went “speechless” for some moment when she got the news that she has been conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award. As “tears of joy” rolled down her cheeks, she spoke at length about her feelings, her dream, the sociological obstacles and much more. “I dedicate this Award to every Woman in the Country,” she said. EXCERPTS:

We understand you are crying.
These are tears of joy. This is a very special moment for me, a very special feeling. I cannot explain it in words. I am speechless and my heart is throbbing very fast.

Did you always pursue this dream?

It is the one of the highest recognition for any sportsperson in India. Right from childhood I have heard about the Arjuna Award. No sportsperson ever plays for any recognition but at times, it can be so satisfying. My sacrifice over the past two decades has not gone waste.

Who do you dedicate this Award to?

I dedicate this to all the women in the country who overcome hurdles every day in the sociological context to excel in their respective fields. This Award is for all of them as much it is for my mom, all my teammates and coaches. I also need to thank AIFF for the continuous support.

You did take back your retirement once.

After my initial retirement, I was floored when AIFF called me up and requested me to take back my retirement. ‘You deserve a better farewell,’ I was told. I wasn’t sure, but they insisted. It eventually came when we won the SAF Games Gold medal before a packed house in Shillong. I am not sure if this has ever happened in Indian Football ever. Thank you AIFF for giving me the honour.

How much will this help to enhance Women’s Football?

As I said, there are sociological obstacles in India which sometimes disallow girls to play Football. I feel my Award will encourage parents to send the girl child to play Football as now they understand that you can win an Arjuna Award by playing Women’s Football in India.

What is your message to the girls in the Country?

Follow your dream and always believe in yourself. There is no alternate to hard work. Aim for the sky and you will achieve it.

It’s difficult to enjoy the moment as a coach: Constantine


NEW DELHI: As India reached their second-best FIFA Ranking (96) ever in the latest FIFA Rankings published on July 6, 2017 and as connoisseurs start to mention about Stephen Constantine having a ‘magic wand,’ the man himself feels that it’s all about teamwork. In an exclusive interview, he speaks at length about the life of a Coach, the difficulty in celebrating moments, his personal satisfaction and much more. EXCERPTS:

Can a Coach ever be satisfied?

There is always the next game which comes to your mind. So it’s not always possible to enjoy the moment. That’s how life is as you are always trying to get better. People may be tempted to go crazy with the recent rise in Rankings and the results, but we cannot get carried away.

People mention you have a magic wand.

(Smiles). I don’t think it’s going to anything do with magic. It’s just a respect for my job and respect for my players, as much it’s the respect for the people around me. These are the key ingredients to any National Team moving forward.

But the Coach is always in the spotlight.

He is, but a Football Team is never about one single person. I take responsibility when the Team is not doing well and share the praise when the Team is doing well. That’s how it is.

Prior to taking up the second stint with India, you were Coaching Rwanda. Why did you yourself step down to take over a Team of more than 100 places in the FIFA Rankings?

I was here some ten years prior and at that time no one knew me. I have always had an emotional attachment with India. Having said that, 2015 was the first year after the Indian Super League was launched. I could foresee a change coming as Indian Football had itself decided that it needed to change. I felt that I could help them go forward. Luckily, Mr. Patel also thought the same.

At the end of the day, all in solitude in your room, what thoughts come back?

(Smiles again). I prefer to sit back, relax a bit and think about how many players I brought through to International Football. And by the way, I am not speaking about the number of players who get International debuts.

Can you elaborate?

If you look at the current Team that started in our last two matches against the Kyrgyz Republic and Nepal, seven from the first XI have been introduced through a process in the last two years. That’s what satisfies me – the immense progress that the boys are making. I did the same thing in Rwanda, Malawi, Sudan, Nepal and even the first time I coached India.

U-17 World Cup will be a game changer – Mama

Aizawl: To be labelled the ‘Godfather’ of football in a certain region would perhaps be something that would afford some a slightly lofty air. However, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, who is often called the ‘Godfather of Mizo footballers’ due to him being one of, if not the biggest name to emerge as a prominent professional footballer from the Northeast Indian state of Mizoram, is actually humble, taciturn and ever-smiling.

‘Mama’, as he is lovingly called, is therefore an inspiration to all footballers and football fans in his home state. After all, he is the first footballer from the region to don the Indian national team jersey.

Malsawmtluanga single-handedly gave hope to what was previously a dormant footballing state in the north-east of India but is now a powerhouse in the sport. Fellow footballers with their origins in Mizoram like Lalrindika Ralte and Jeje Lalpekhlua followed suit and went on to become stars at a national stage, but very few can match the adulation and respect Malsawmtluanga gets.

In fact, ‘Mama’ now has a stand named after him at the famous Assam Rifles Stadium in Aizwal, the venue of the latest Mission XI Million (MXIM) Festival as a part of the build up to the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.

In a wide-ranging chat, Malsawmtluanga discussed the upcoming U-17 World Cup in his home nation and what the future holds for India in footballing terms.

Q: With Guwahati being one of the host cities for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, do you think it’ll help football grow in the other parts of north-east India too?
A: It’s a matter of great pride and honour that India is hosting a FIFA tournament later this year. I believe all of us should head to the stadiums to support the teams. Watching such world class players will enthuse kids here further. I believe the Northeast of our country is a hotbed for the sport. The tournament will ensure more and more people here take up football professionally.

Q: As a whole, how do you think the FIFA U-17 World Cup will help the game of football in India?
A: Without a doubt, it’ll be a game-changer. When I was growing up, not too many people dreamed of letting their kids take up a sport professionally. That has changed now and while I believe there’s still time before we become a global superpower in the sport, a youth tournament of this stature will definitely introduce a lot of people to the beautiful game and that should prove pivotal in the years to come.

Q: How can parents, schools and teachers help in making India a footballing giant in the coming years?
A: Let the kids play, that’s about it! Don’t force them to do things they don’t want to. If they want to go to the field every day, let them do that. There’s so much talent in our country, and teachers and parents will play a crucial role if we are to tap in to it.

Q: With a program like MXIM, the aim is to get children to take to football at a young age. What would be your advice to kids who want to play the game?
A: Mission XI Million is a wonderful initiative undertaken by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Government of India. To be honest I’m overwhelmed to see more that 7000 kids come and enjoy the game together. It makes me believe that it’ll help produce several quality players in the years to come. As for the kids, my only advice is to enjoy the game, take it one day at a time, listen to your heart and follow your passion. Trust me, if I can do it, you can too.

Q: A word about your relationship with Mizoram and being called the ‘Godfather of Mizo footballers’?
A: (Laughs) I am humbled by the love and adulation showered by all the Mizo people for me. The state has really established itself as a cradle for footballers in our country and I’m proud to have played a small part in it.

Q: What are your own future plans? Do you plan on getting into coaching?
A: Coaching would involve retiring! I’m not ready for that just yet.


I owe my career to my father – Latifuddin Najam

KOLKATA: Latifuddin Najam, the son of 1952 Helsinki Olympian Syed Khaja Moinuddin, was one of the most skilled players ever to step foot in Kolkata maidans. The Hyderabadi winger who helped the club to win many accolades during his 10-year-long stint, was conferred with Shan-e-Mohammedan (Lifetime Achievement Award) by Mohammedan Sporting Club in club’s Iftar Party held at Haj House in Park Circus, Kolkata this evening.

Moments after getting the award, Latifuddin spoke on a variety of topics in an exclusive interview. EXCERPTS:

First of all congratulations on getting the Shan-e-Mohammedan. You have won many trophies in your career, but when you got this award, how much does it mean to you?

Latifuddin Najam: It is a great feeling that your services to the club have been recognized. I have always played for passion, and it was such a pleasure and joy to be able to do what I did. I never think of any awards while playing, but today I felt honored to receive this award from Mohammedan Sporting Club. I wish this award will serve as an inspiration to the younger generation to do their best for the club.

Let’s go back to the beginning of Latifuddin. How did you get into football?

Latifuddin Najam: To be honest I never truly believed that I would become a professional footballer when I first began to play as a child. I played the game because I loved it. When I realized that it was going to be my future, I started to practice more and playing seriously.

You are of course a role model to many around the country, but even a great footballer like yourself must have had a role model? 

Latifuddin Najam: My inspiration, role model whatever you want to call, has always been my father (Syed Khaja Moinuddin). He was one of the faces of Hyderabad football as well as Indian football, that many aspiring footballers looked up to for inspiration. I always spent time following him. He was my first coach and he taught me everything I know. I owe my career to my father. He always used to tell me whatever you do be honest with it. I think I have made him proud along the way.

 Who were some of your playing mates when you made your Mohammedan Sporting Club debut and how difficult was it getting into the team?

Latifuddin Najam: I first joined Mohammedan Sporting Club in 1970. I was 17 years old at the time and the players like Peter Thangaraj, Syed Nayeemuddin, Mohammad Habib, Sadatullah Khan, Syed Lateefuddin (Senior), Sardar Khan were there in the team. It was extremely difficult getting into the side as some of all time greats in Indian football were already there, but I patiently waited for my turn and when it came I grabbed it with both hands.

You were one of the most consistent players for Mohammedan Sporting Club during your stay. How difficult has it been to maintain consistency for such a long time?

Latifuddin Najam: It has been very difficult, this world is full of up’s and downs. There were many challenges along the way but with almighty Allah on your side, things worked out for me. I felt like I had divine help whenever I faced setbacks.

What are the high and low points of your career?

Latifuddin Najam: My highest points was me scoring the equalizing goal for India in the final of 1974 Asian Junior Championship. Going into the final against Iran, not many people gave us a chance but we had self belief and fought hard to earn a 2-2 draw and crowned joint winners.

I don’t think there was any low points in my career. However, there were some moments when I felt disappointed. One of them was not being able to win the Calcutta Football League for Mohammedan Sporting Club in 1975. I thought we had the best team that year and all of us were in good form but one bad match finished it all.

What do you think the reason behind Hyderabad football’s decline?

Latifuddin Najam: I think there are a lot of issues tied in there. We have administrative problems in Hyderabad football. Even players themselves may not be as focused as they should be. I suppose complacency would be a factor as well as the fact that we thought because we have always produced great players over the years, we don’t have to do much and they will keep turning up and by the time we realized that it’s not so easy, we were already on our way down the ladder. Hyderabad football have been the architect of it’s own decline, we really can’t blame anybody else.

What do you think of Indian Super League (ISL), what effect has ISL had on Indian football?

Latifuddin Najam: It has helped in many areas. It has given a lot of young players an opportunity to play against or with some of the top foreign players. It is a good innovation for Indian football because not only it bring new players in but it also bringing people back to Indian football.

You have brought great entertainment to fans all over the country for many years and we thank you for that and also for your time today in doing this interview.

Latifuddin Najam: My pleasure and many thanks to all of your readers and my fans for all the support and well wishes over the

You can’t build a team in a month: Constantine

NEW DELHI: Despite India reaching 100 in the FIFA Rankings, National Coach Stephen Constantine stresses that “we have not achieved anything as yet.” With the National Team practising in Mumbai at the Preparatory Camp ahead of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifier against the Kyrgyz Republic, Constantine spoke at length about the recipe for success, the improvements in the squad since taking over, his expectations from a player and much more. EXCERPTS:

India have won 11 of the last 13 matches including the unofficial friendly match against Bhutan. What is the secret of the success?

I don’t think there is any secret. It’s been a combination of hard work and self-belief. When I came in, I remember mentioning that it’s a learning process as you cannot build a Team within a week or a month. It has taken around two years for us to build a side who I think on any given day are capable of competing against any Team.

What has been the improvement in the side since you took over?

One of the major improvements has been the manner in which we prepare for our matches. Our training sessions are all based on how we would play in the game and according to the physical attributes required for each specific position. So even though our training sessions may look easy from the stands, it deals with the players are required to do in their positions.

Anything else?

The use of the GPS systems has been a novelty. The information which we have been able to attain has been huge as it confirms to us what is done in training and in matches too.

Another very important factor has been the buy-in to the philosophy by all the players and the staff, thereby accepting an ultimatum and doing the work that is required.

What do expect from any player reporting to the Camp?

I don’t care about names. I expect the players to do the hard work when they report to the Camp. The willingness to do the work defines a player for me. As and when any player raises his hand to do it, he is available for selection in my squad.