In the last eight I-League seasons, Dempo have won five league titles. And since Dempo started winning leagues, traditional powerhouses East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have failed to win a single title between them.
They have seen Cup victories, but when it comes down to the league, there is a clear shift of power from Bengal towards Goa and a large part of that is due to Dempo’s incredible dominance in recent years.
Dempo, who were relegated at the turn of the millennium, have now become one of the top clubs in India. In a sport which is often overshadowed by cricket in the country, their outspoken manager Armando Colaco (he also played for them for 14 years) has led the team in one of the most incredible revival stories.
Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Firstpost.
Do you believe that Dempo has become the top club in India in the last decade?
It goes without saying that we are the most successful side in the last 10 years. Look at our records… let them speak for themselves. And there’s no looking back from here.
Has there been a shift in power in football from Bengal to Goa?
I can remember how everyone wanted to run to Kolkata a few years ago. It was never the other way round. No one wanted to come to Goa. But, since we started winning, players want to rush to the west (of India). I think the pivotal point in this was me signing Cristiano Junior from East Bengal. That pretty much started everything.
What makes Dempo tick? Is there a secret to this success?
No secret at all, it’s all out in the open how we function. It’s about togetherness, about the pride of playing for a club like Dempo and the freedom that I get as a manager. Ask any other coach whether they get privileges like I do… the answer will certainly be negative. The management has never asked me “why did you lose this game?”.
But credit must go to the players. I love my players and I let them know this. Even the owners are brilliant. That’s how it is at Dempo. There are no ego problems in our club. Everybody does all the work here. For example, I’m the one to lay out the cones, get the ball, set up goal-posts… there’s no difference between any member of the club. I think this atmosphere is what makes the club work so smoothly.
When you played at Dempo, it was under Joseph Rathnam, who was a disciplinarian. How did that affect your coaching style… because it seems to be very different from Rathnam.
My coaching style is a mix of discipline and freedom. I’m strict when my boys are training for two hours but that doesn’t mean I won’t have a drink with them. I even party with them! But on the pitch, I’m a coach… off it, I’m a friend.
Playing under Rathnam taught me the philosophy of how to play by keeping the ball with you. You don’t need to kick it all the time. Just keep the ball. I also like taking notes after all matches. That way, I’m pretty meticulous.
Despite all the success, Dempo seem to keep a very low profile. Is it because you want it that way?
Yes, you can say that. I come from a good family who taught me how to mingle with all the people irrespective of your standing in society. I still go to practice on a motorbike, that’s how low profile I am. Even with interviews, I always push the players to talk to the press rather than me speaking. It’s about them, about the club… not about me. And why would you want to become high-profile? We do our talking on the pitch.
Dempo have been brilliant in the league, but you don’t seem to do well in cup formats. Is the philosophy of Dempo more attuned towards the league?
I would say so. Actually, only winning leagues has become something like a curse. In cups, you make one mistake and it’s gone. There’s no time to correct them. In the league, you can do that. But we try, we do well and it’s only the last couple of hurdles that we fail at.
Do you think Indian clubs need to make some big signings to push football? What will it take to attract talent the way the A-League, J-League, Chinese leagues and even the MLS are doing?
(The A-League have recently seen Alessandro del Piero and Emile Heskey sign for them. Didier Drogba is currently playing in China)
Absolutely! We need these top players like you mentioned. But for that we need good facilities and money. Even if me make do with the facilities we have, the quality of football is not good enough. We need the league to get stronger.
We also need conviction. To be honest, I signed Rohan Ricketts (former Arsenal, Tottenham and Wolves player) in ten minutes. The deal was done that fast. We’re also working on a deal with Shah Rukh Khan to see if he can attend a few matches. If people don’t want to see football, at least they come to the stadium to watch him!
Do you think our league is so bad that top players may not want to come here?
The way the I-League is run currently, it will bring the end of football in India. What type of administration doesn’t pay previous season’s prize money? For us to attract top talent, we need to make sure all this red tape is gone. Take for example the FIFA visits. They discuss they want to promote football in places like Gujarat, Guwahati and Bangalore. But what about those states that are already doing so much for the sport? No development there? There’s no strategy.
According to you, has football grown in the country in the last 20 years?
No. It has stagnated. We are still there. In fact, I would say that football was much better in my days. If we still had those players, we would be in top five of Asia.
So what is stopping this growth?
Five points: One, everybody in India wants shortcut to success. Two, no grassroots development. Three, everybody is a coach— we don’t understand that kicking a ball and to teach how to kick a ball are two different things. Four, look at the federation. Does anyone in there know tactics? Do they know football? I don’t think so. And five, Indians don’t have faith in Indians.
When we see a white coach or a player, we go ‘wow’! But we don’t have the same awe for our own players. We are stuck in the belief that India cannot play football. If they believe we can, then development will happen.
Dempo are currently top of the table in the on-going I-League.