Mumbai: Possession is a much-feted mantra in Indian football. The recent exploits of FC Goa have been extolled by all and sundry. So much so that Mumbai City FC have now roped in Sergio Lobera to replicate the same brand of possession-based football played by his previous employers.
Current national coach Igor Stimac too is predisposed towards the same philosophy, as was a predecessor, Wim Koevermans.
Meanwhile, even Armando Colaco chipped in to remind everybody about his record breaking run and style at Dempo SC. Colaco acknowledged the legacy of mentor Joseph Ratnam who taught them the tricks of the trade in the 1970s. Possession has enjoyed its moments in the sun in Indian hockey too.
One of its successful practitioners were Mahindra & Mahindra in the 1980s. The architects of this policy were their trio of Olympians, Joaquim Carvalho, M M Somaya and Marcellus Gomes, which powered the ‘jeepmen’ to some notable triumphs.
Both Carvalho and Somaya explained that the Mumbaibased club took to possession to counter the different styles of their outstation rivals, the speedy and skillful teams like Sports Hostel and Indian Airlines, the hit-and-run game of the Services outfits and the ‘hit’ & pressing style of the talented Punjab squads.
“Short passing and possession were there even before with the ‘Bombay’ teams,” admitted Carvalho. “We brought in tactics and a system to suit the players we had. By slowing down the game and keeping possession we were able to keep the opposition at bay.
It was thinking hockey, scientific hockey!” Somaya, who has a ‘D’ coaching license in football, said their style of play required nimble backs who were comfortable on the ball and could engage the halfbacks in bouts of passing. “We kept possession and attacked sporadically.
They call it tiki taka in football, we called it ping pong,” the recently retired executive director at Bharat Petroleum quipped. The 1980 Moscow gold medallist and 1988 Seoul captain explained that their game plan implied not running helter shelter but rather conserving themselves, both physically and mentally.
As a digression he opined that where you keep possession is important – if in more attacking areas, there are more chances of entering the ‘D’ and going for goal! Despite being described as ‘the architect’ of the game plan by Somaya, Gomes modestly downplayed his role in the efforts, countering that possession is not a virtue by itself, but it has to be effective. Example: Spain’s disastrous outing in the 2018 Football World Cup.
The wily inside-right emphasised that the real “pioneer” of possession-based hockey was former Air-India coach Cedric D’Souza under whose tutelage Bombay won the national hockey title at Gwalior in 1989. Gomes skippered that team.
D’Souza went on to mentor the national team and Gomes joined as his assistant. Diehard hockey fans still remember the contribution of these teams which brought a different dimension to the ‘national game’ with their possession-based play