Eelco Schattorie is a well-known name in Indian Football. Having coached clubs like United SC, East Bengal, NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters, the Dutchman knows Indian Football better than most. Here’s our exclusive interview with him.
You came to India as Prayag United coach. What was your 1st impression of Indian Football?
It was not the plan to come to India. But a friend of mine was head coach of the national team that time, Wim Kovermans. His agent asked me if I was interested in coming to India. I asked Kovermans about football in India and he told me that it was a sleeping giant and this was in 2012. So I came to India and it was completely different from what I had experienced. I had about 2 days to prepare and we won the first game 10-1. It was Prayag United vs United Sikkim. It created a lot of expectation and so my first impression was a big positive.
What do you think has changed in Indian football from when you 1st came here to now?
There has been a huge improvement in infrastructure wise. The ISL teams have more money to spend, they form better teams, we stay in better hotels, we play on better pitches, there is better media coverage. So yes, the perception of the game has changed
You have coached East Bengal, one of the most well-known clubs in India. They haven’t been able to land the league title for some time despite coming close a few times. What do you think has been the problem for the club?
I arrived at East Bengal at the wrong time. I think East Bengal are a fantastic team, they have fantastic supporters, there is a culture there. I arrived sometime in February right after the ISL and the players had returned from the ISL to the I League. East Bengal had a lot of players in the ISL and they take time to get used to each other. Secondly, when I arrived, the chief official was in jail and the club was unstable and not structured and I had a very short time there, maybe 2 or 3 months or something towards the end of the league. It was a huge challenge. In my opinion, my arrival was at the wrong time especially because the leadership of the club was not there at that moment. For a long time, they haven’t been able to land the title. Even 2 years before that, when I was at Prayag and they had Trevor Morgan and a very good team, we defeated East Bengal for the IFA Shield. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the problem. Arsenal and Manchester United are also having problems after having a coach for 20 years (Wenger and Ferguson) despite having all the facilities. I think East Bengal has a huge backbone in their supporters and culture but their infrastructure and giving the coach at least 2-3years to build something is the key. If you trying that long for a title and it’s not happening there is something structurally wrong. For me, its about being patient, having able management and giving a coach a chance to build over 2 to 3 years.
Your work with NorthEast was highly praised as you lead them to the playoffs despite being one of the low spending teams in the league. What was the planning that went into the season?
It comes down to players’ quality. We had a few problems. Our defender Miroslav got injured before the winter break. I asked for a replacement but didn’t get it. He came back after the break but got injured again after 1 game. We then brought in a defender from Columbia who was not fit. Regarding the preparations, I think I did a good job of keeping the players together. It’s a good puzzle that I solved. 80% of the team was the same throughout the tournament. We qualified but couldn’t make it to the final.
You have coached in 3 hotbeds of Indian Football – the northeast, Kerala and Kolkata. What do you have to say about the football culture in these places and their differences?
I have only love and respect for all 3. It’s difficult to explain the differences. They have great talent and fanbases. All three have beautiful football cultures and should be treasured. It’s like if you compare Liverpool to Manchester United. Both have different styles but both are beautiful hotbeds of football.
You had great words for Sahal and Samuel? Do you think they can lead the midfield for India soon in the future?
I get a lot of criticism for not playing Sahal and Samuel too much but at the same time, I have a track record of many Indian as well as young players of other countries improving and succeeding under me. I have emphasised on the reason a lot but people don’t tend to understand. In Kerala Blasters, I had to change the system from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 due to injuries. Sahal and Samuel are attacking midfielders and they didn’t fit into that system. It’s not always about talent, it’s also about the physical and mental part of the game. I have told them that. Samuel is at a new club and Sahal is under a new coach at KBFC. They both have a lot of potentials and I wish them all the best and hope they end up as shining lights of the Indian Football team
Who is the best Indian player you have worked with and who do you think is currently the best player in India apart from Chhetri?
The best technical player I have seen in India is Cavin Lobo. He was very good technically and skill-wise, a bit like Sahal but better developed. I also like Rowlin Borges. He is good defensively, scores goals and is an around player. After Chhetri, currently, I think Fernandes of Goa and Rowlin are the best Indian players right now
You have worked with many great foreigners be it Ranti Martins, Dudu, Carlos Hernandez, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Gallego, Cido, Messi Bouli etc who is the best foreigner you have worked with?
All the players you mentioned played well under me and I am happy to have brought up their quality and helped them to improve. In the end, they have to do all by themselves but I am happy to have contributed. But if you ask me who is the best, I would say Bartholomew Ogbeche and Carlos Hernandez. Both of them played in the World Cup and were very good.
Your take on the number of foreigners that should be allowed in Indian leagues?
For a long time, the I League was having 4 foreigners with of them being Asian. It wasn’t really contributing to the development of the Indian team. Now it’s being said that we have too many foreigners. But the Indian team was being able to perform then and it’s not performing now. The foreigners playing in the ISL are high level and Indian players are improving because of them. Instead of reducing foreigners, I suggest a change in the format of the league. It should have more games. Also, it should have more substitutions to give more chances to Indians
Many coaches are converting Indian wingers to wing-backs like Ashique or Mandar. Your opinion?
If the wingers are not doing much they can be converted into wing-backs. The two players you mentioned here are left-footed. You don’t find many left wing-backs in India. The best one I worked with was Robert in the NorthEast. So you have to find a solution and I think Ashique and Mandar were played there because there were no other options. I don’t think it’s a trend but it was more of a necessity.
How do you see Indian Football in the post-COVID time?
Yes, many clubs will be hit financially. You will see that all over the world. I am still not convinced on whether football will restart according to plans. Budgets are going down and clubs still need to pay the salaries, it might affect the foreigner’s clubs bring in. I am also looking for a new job and I know it won’t be easy. I am curious to see what happens, its an interesting question that I can’t answer right now.
Finally, a word on your plans for the future. Is a return to India on the cards?
I am looking for a return to Europe. But the COVID situation makes it difficult. There’s nothing concrete yet. I think the book is closed for now on India. I didn’t expect one or two offers from there but I didn’t get one. I think it because clubs think I am a difficult person to work with, straight forward and not very diplomatic. But I wish everyone all the best for the new season and stay safe in this difficult situation.