NEW DELHI: Arthur Papas took over as India’s U-22 Coach for the Asian Cup Qualifiers from June. Though just 32, Papas has been highly regarded for his tactical acumen and no-nonsense attitude. After his first training session with India’s U-22 squad at the Ambedkar Stadium, Papas spoke at length to www.the-aiff.com about his Indian experience, challenges, coaching philosophy and India’s chances at the U-22 Qualifiers. EXCERPTS:
How has your Indian experience been so far?
I must say it has been pleasant experience so far. All the people I have been in contact with have been very warm towards me and this has helped me in settling down fast. I’m trying to embrace the culture as much as possible in all areas. It is very important for me to adjust to the Indian culture. It gives me the best opportunity to deliver my level of expertise to Indian football.
In terms of football we have much work to do. It’s about introducing a new style of football and to do this you need have a view of long term development plan that fits in with such a change in philosophy. In the short term we will work diligently, with high levels of enthusiasm and an aim in the long term to improve the standings of India in the World Rankings. It requires patience from all involved including myself.
This is your first major assignment with the Indian National U-22 team. The bunch of boys is being considered the future of Indian Football. How do you intend to deal with the expectations and pressure?
In Coaching, you have to be able to deal with pressure. I feel the biggest pressure is the one I place on myself and I thrive on this in the process.
In terms of expectations, it’s very clear and that is to play a major part in the development of these talented players within the squad to eventually help them become International Players for India. It’s important for them to develop as individuals and as a team — so when they become National Team players, they can really do something special for India.
Our upcoming Tournament, the U-22 Asian Cup Qualifiers, serve as another opportunity to expose these players to a higher level of competition. It’s very important that players get used to competing at a higher level. This allows the Technical Staff to identify the players in the group and only then can they display the qualities, which in will serve as the next step forward in their International careers.
It’s just been a couple of days that you took over. With such little time left to prepare for the Qualifiers, how do you plan to overturn such a deficit?
With very limited time left for the preparation of the AFC U-22 Qualifiers, it’s obvious that it’s difficult to change the physical or technical characteristics of the individual dramatically. Hence, the main purpose is to give them a clearer understanding of the functions within the system we are implementing. At the International level the speed of the game is much quicker than the domestic circuit. So the players need to learn to play at a higher intensity and that in turn improves the technical & physical characteristics whilst keeping in mind the main theme – football and not isolated training.
There is also a strong focus on the positioning in respect to the ball, opponent and space. This is aimed at developing the individual and the team’s tactical acumen. It’s important to concentrate on the Qualifiers but at the same time not lose sight of the long term picture which is developing a more well rounded player who is flexible in his way of seeing football.
In terms of the players they have already shown a real willingness to embrace the training methodology and ideas we as technical staff are putting across to them. All I have asked for at this stage is that they maintain an open mind in their approach to all areas both on and off the field. They have adjusted fast and it motivates me to assist them in their aspirations in football both in the short and the long term.
If you are asked to suggest basic changes required to mould this bunch into Champions, what would those be?
Right now, we are stressing on the shifting of the playing style and system. In the past, Indian National Teams had a preference to stick to the 1-4-4-2 system. It’s not conceivable to change a system overnight or in few sessions and become World Champions. It will take time and all involved need to maintain patience and not to lose sight of where in the future they would like to see Indian football.
We are focusing on the 1-4-3-3 and at this stage it is about understanding the overall concepts. Only when you start reaching a stage where you can work on the details within this system, you can start to look ahead with increased optimism. It’s our main focus at the moment and requires a will to improve, a high level of concentration and the technical qualities to match.
India’s Group in the U-22 Asian Cup Qualifiers couldn’t have been tougher. Clubbed with Iraq, UAE, Oman, Lebanon and Turkmenistan, how do you rate Indian’s chances?
It is the toughest group in the U-22 Asian Cup Qualifiers. If you consider Australia couldn’t qualify ahead of Iraq and UAE in the Olympic Qualifiers, going as far as not even scoring a goal in the qualifying process, it clearly shows how tough it is.
What’s important from our point of view is to have a belief in what you are trying to do. I have already explained to the group the areas I’m looking for which will be the determinants of success. All of that is not based on direct result.
As a footballing nation it’s critical that we are not taking part in tournaments at youth level with a mentality that ‘we try not to lose’ rather than ‘we play to win’. This means we need to have to look closely at our style of football which will give us the best chance of winning in the long term at Senior International level. We will aim to be more courageous in our football style.