Drawing a comparison with the triumphant English Under-17 FIFA World Cup footballers, Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory put his finger on how the new rule of playing six Indians in the starting XI is helping home-grown talent gain valuable experience.
“The great thing as I have said from day one is the fact that we have to play domestic players.
“We have to choose six domestic players every game. They are getting minutes on the pitch and are improving, getting better. Certainly the boys that we have got…we had four in the (India) last international (vs Myanmar),” Gregory told IANS in an interview.
The veteran coach and former England international was talking about the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Germanpreet Singh and Anirudh Thapa who came off the bench in the 82nd minute) playing for the national team in their Asian Cup 2019 qualifier engagement in Goa last month.
Stephen Constantine’s India have already booked their passage to the United Arab Emirates as the two best-placed teams in their group.
“They have benefited from playing minutes for their club side. Obviously Jerry (Lalrinzuala) and Jeje (Lalpekhlua) are the more regular boys in the national team but they come back from the national team and play for us regularly,” continued the 63-year old former Aston Villa boss.
The former midfielder has made 600 league appearances in English football and represented the England national team six times.
Coming to the comparison with the England team that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Kolkata in October, Gregory pointed out that the bevy of foreign players that play in the English Premier League will make it harder for these boys to break into the senior first team later in their careers.
“Some of the boys that won the World Cup for the U-17s in England, they got back to England and ended up playing on a training ground somewhere…in an U-23 game or an U-21 game or even an U-19 game in front of about 50 people,” Gregory said.
“It’s hard for them, and it might be hard for them to find a place ever playing in their first team of whichever club they belong to. So it’s not all that easy being an England U-17 World Cup winner. They still get problems.
“The (Indian) national team here is progressing. Stephen is doing a good job with the national team. And certainly from our point of view, we had four boys in the last international match. So we are very proud of sending players to the national team and I think we got one or two waiting in the wings,” he added.
In his first stint in India, Gregory said training facilities needs to improve in order to promote grassroots development and clubs need to focus on that in the forthcoming seasons.
“My first impression has been great. The fans are amazing here and they come in numbers for our home games. The players get a lot of attention and from that point of view, it’s similar to England.
“But the infrastructure is slightly different here. The training facilities could certainly be better at every club. The matches come thick and fast as well which is very similar to England,” he said.
“Training facilities is a really important ingredient in any infrastructure you have. And it’s always been difficult for football which is always played second fiddle to cricket. We like to play a passing game and the facilities need to give you an opportunity to be able to do that.
“Most clubs have one pitch and you have 25 players in your squad and it’s sometimes difficult to get all of them on one training pitch. That more than anything stands out for me. Clubs are spending a huge amount of money in running ISL clubs. The costs are astronomical.
“It will be nice to think that maybe clubs will start to invest a little bit more in the training facilities. Because at the end of the day, if you’re a club like ourselves looking to really get involved at grassroots level as well you need good practice pitches and that’s an issue I am sure will take a bit more attention to the owners of clubs over the forthcoming years,” he elaborated.
The 63-year old, who saw his side script a superb 3-2 win over defending champions ATK here on Thursday, signed off by saying their first aim is to secure playoffs berth and take it on from there.
“That has got to be the first job at hand. I know this team has won the title once and there are expectations. We are playing well and winning away (in Pune) at our first attempt was very good,’ he said.
“This win (against ATK) also shows our character and we are a very closely knitted unit I keep saying this.”
After four games, Chennaiyin are top of the table with three back-to-back triumphs and having nine points in the bag.
By Debayan Mukherjee