Vision India 1…a Conversation with Coach Tim Hankinson, Head Coach, Salgaocar S.C. (2009-2010)

This week we are very honoured to welcome American Coach Tim Hankinson to share his thoughts on all things Indian football.

Coach Hankinson began his professional coaching career with Tindsedal FC in Iceland’s First Division. He returned to the US after the 1994 World Cup and joined Major League Soccer as Director of Player Development. He went on to coach the MLS Project 40 squad, the Tampa Bay Mutiny, and the Colorado Rapids for a combination of seven seasons. In March 2006, he was named Head coach of the Guatemalan U-17 national team. After Guatemala was eliminated from the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, he accepted a position as Head Coach at NCAA Division II powerhouse Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.  As an NCAA Div. I college coach previously, Coach Hankinson had won Big East Coach of the Year honors at Syracuse University and led tiny Alabama A&M to the NCAA Div I Finals two years in a row.

On July 1st, 2009 he announced he would be leaving Fort Lewis College to take up a coaching position in India for Goan powerhouse Salgaocar SC.  Coach Hankinson officially became the first American professional head football coach in Asia.

Coach, thanks very much for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us.  Tell us this first, what led you to take up the opportunity in India?

My career has always been about taking risk…be it when I went to Guatemala to coach the U-17 national team, took on the Director of Player Development role with the virgin MLS, or the opportunity in the I-League with Salgaocar.  Moreover, even though I have had wonderful experiences in the college game in America, my heart has always been with the pro player.  I felt I could really make a difference in the game here.  Goa is also as many know, a beautiful place and real football hotbed.

Now that some time to reflect has passed, how do you feel about your time at Salgaocar?

Well, firstly, it was a joy to get to know the players and work with them.   There is plenty of talent and potential here. It was really a journey of progress both on and off the field.  Leaving was very difficult, and I wish I had more time with them, but that is life in football.

There is plenty of talent and progress is possible in India, but a manager needs time to not only instil a philosophy across aspects of a club, from the types of players to sign, to the training and nutrition regimens, to the player development aspects of the club.  One season is just too short to not only plan and implement, but also judge results.

National Coach Bob Houghton recently came out and suggested India should follow the American model, esp. as it relates to building infrastructure and trying to host a World Cup.  America is consistently ranked in the top 20 in the world and had an outstanding Confederations Cup.  Over 15 years ago, you played a major role in the US Project 2010 vision as MLS Director of Player Development.  Can you expand upon Coach Houghton’s comments?  What do you feel is lacking in the Indian game, and what do we need to do here in India to improve?

There is so much to consider, but let’s break things down one at a time at both a macro and micro level.

Coach Houghton is absolutely correct in that we need much better football infrastructure to develop the game.  That the Indian National team had to go to Dubai to train recently is really all we need to look at to emphasize that we need more and better training grounds and stadiums.

Taking this further…I think the undertone of Bob’s comments are really about commitment…how committed is India to developing football.  When I took on the player development role for MLS, the purpose was clear…how do we win a World Cup?  What do we need to do to win this tournament by 2010?  And we are seeing the fruits of it now…infrastructure being one major aspect.  But it is about an entire apparatus working together…the local academy system having been brought under one banner offering much more competitive training and matches, more efficient identification of talent, and better dissemination of the US national team philosophy through a national scouting network, the use of the latest technologies to enhance player evaluation and progress, and the establishment of the national academy at Bradenton have all contributed to an improved, integrated system.

I spent a lot of time down in Brazil a few years ago.  Everybody wants to understand why Brazil keeps churning out top class talent at young ages…well, it starts with their commitment.  They have been and remain the most committed nation to developing top class footballers. Around the age of 10 players join clubs where futsal courts are located in the stadiums themselves.  They train twice a day…at 6:30am and then again, at 4pm.  One game a week is played, usually on Saturday.  If the player can afford it and is within a commutable distance from his home, he goes home on Sunday.  And in terms of developing competitive instincts in players, the rule on the futsal courts is the winning team stays on.  There is little instruction…just short-sided competition.  Naturally, none of the players wants to be on the sideline.

So if India is committed, they need a plan, they need a set of goals, and the financial and human resources that demonstrate that commitment.

In terms though of the US analogy, India does have much more in common really with countries like Brazil and countries in Africa…so can India really simply emulate the US model?

I think where Bob is coming from again, is commitment. In that sense, if India does put in the infrastructure that allows it to bid for and host a World Cup, the popularity of the game that will result and the boost the game will receive here in India will be massive as it was in the United States.

At a grass roots level, certainly the model requires adjustment to all that India is and is not.

Talk more about the Indian player…

At a more micro level, I think the Indian players must develop better nutrition and endurance habits.  In terms of fitness, players are very comfortable with short circuits…and a more “street ball” approach to both the game and fitness levels.  I have dealt with professionals from all over and the Indian player is not unique in disliking endurance training; however, the Indian professional, unlike footballers at the highest levels internationally, does not yet recognize how critical endurance work is for their own benefit. Endurance training is an absolute must for players to maintain pace through 90 minutes, and compete on an international stage.

In terms of nutrition…which has direct links to fitness but also size…the Indian player is generally of a smaller ilk, though we do see much taller, well built players coming out of regions in Northeast India, and Punjab….habits must improve.  Whether it is reducing quantities of ghee, butter, oil and sugar, or increasing quantities of lean protein, players need better nutritional awareness and the impact it is having on their development and performance.

How about technical skills and tactical understanding?

Tactical and technical understanding must reach beyond one’s own feet and a 10 yard radius. Developing a vision for the full field and the final third is imperative. “Victory lies behind defenders” and the Indian player must develop the timing of movement without the ball to meet the vision of the channel pass from the player with the ball. Quickness, intelligence and timing will make up for lacking European size.

You have seen Sunil Chhetri up close and also had to coach against him…what can we expect to see from him in the MLS?

Chhetri is an intelligent player that needs few chances in the box to score. He never waits for the ball, always attacking it.

MLS is very athletic and it will take some time adjusting and in getting to know the strengths of his teammates. But I believe he will do well as will others from India.

Can we look forward to seeing you back here in India again?

As far as the I-League, my agent Arvind from Libero Sports is working on next season. I hope for news soon as being a part of the player selection process is important in developing a player pool that realistically can win cups!

Many thanks Coach Hankinson for your inputs and we look forward to speaking again!

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