Monday, September 9, 2013

Foreign Coaches in India: A Cultural Opportunity & Challenge

Within the Indian football fraternity, there is a strong belief that we need to rely on foreign coaches to improve the level of coaching within the country.  I tend to agree with this belief as over the past few years, I haven’t met enough Indian coaches who have the right mix of experience and technical expertise required to produce international level players.  It’s not that quality Indian coaches do not exist in India, as there are some, however it’s that there are just not enough to service the needs of a country with 1.2 billion people.

What I’ve learned through experience though is that successfully bringing over a foreign coach to India and making it work is no easy task. I’ve watched our Player Representation department working around the clock facilitating these coach deals for I-League clubs and I’ve been personally involved in helping find foreign technical staff for a few of our Academies. In the beginning, I honestly thought that the hard part was just finding a foreign coach good enough to meet the I-League cub’s requirements and adventurous enough to move to India. Usually this can take many months but once the deal happens and the coach is in the country, the novice agency resource would tend to believe that the work has been done, however this is far from the reality.

The hard work comes in the first few weeks of the coach being in the country and then about 6 months after the coach has started his appointment. The first few weeks are difficult because although it’s the “honeymoon” period where the excitement of the press conference and potential still linger in the air, it is also the time when the coach realizes a lot of daunting things about India: getting domestic stuff done is incredibly hard, the traffic is frighteningly chaotic, the infrastructure is non existent and the players fitness levels leave a lot to be desired. It’s during this time when the coach is constantly calling my colleagues as they require someone to vent to more than actually assuming we or anyone can “fix” these long standing issues. However hard these first few weeks are, they typically pass as most people who move to India realize that it’s not going to be pleasant at first.

The real issues come in about 6 months later.  This is when the coach recognizes that many of the technical staff and players are not able to keep up at the pace the coach wants to develop the club; and ,even worse, that there are many individuals within his own system who are working against the coach out of insecurity of being exposed as technical staff not fit to achieve the owner’s objectives. It’s during these times when the coach usually reaches his wits end and expresses his desire to leave. At this point, some coaches do leave, some just yell, some become resigned and take their commitment levels down a notch and some put their head down and work even harder believing in the opportunity to play their part in transforming a culture.

What I’ve noticed is that many Club and Academy owners are comfortable with paying a coach upwards of $10,000 a month salary however they get frightened to make any major changes even after that expensive resource expresses the need to “shake up the system” in order to get results. This cultural fear of hurting people’s feelings within certain environments is only hurting the growth of football in the country and is one of the sole reasons why these foreign coaches leave or give up before even making an impact.

My advice to all agencies such as ours that facilitate these deals, is that it’s critical to ensure that the coach and owners are on the same page specific to transforming the culture and environment of the football program prior to the appointment of the technical resource.  By not doing this so many football properties have dumped money into a person who was hired to fight a battle which he cannot win. 

I believe in the future of football in this country and the integral role that Western football will play in shaping of this Eastern football landscape, however I can’t stress enough times how important it is that both worlds understand the value of detaching themselves from past cultural conditioning in order to achieve optimal results.  

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