Shanmugam Venkatesh

In an interview with the AIFF, the current Indian national team assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh has shared his thoughts on how Indian football has evolved over the years. Venkatesh, who was previously the captain of the Blue Tigers, mentioned how analytics, much-needed improvisation and many other bits and pieces are improving the nation’s football gradually. Football Monk takes a closer look into his interview.

The Evolution

While talking about the continuous evolving process of football in India, Venkatesh stated, “It has evolved a lot. There’s always a pathway for evolution. Looking at the international calendar, there are three stages of the preparatory process – unofficial friendly matches, International Friendlies, and then the Official Qualifiers and tournaments. As these are different stages of preparation, the process of selection and approach also stay different.”

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The evolution isn’t limited in the highest level of football rather it is changing the conventional ways in grass root levels and making the youngsters prepared for bigger challenges. A completely new group of players is rising from the King’s Cup in 2019. Venkatesh’s opinion about it is, “Indian football has changed its outlook. From the camp for the King’s Cup, we began our journey from scratch and looked for players who are adept in more technical play.

The easier way would have been to look for six players who can defend, and four who could chase, and someone who could score. The entire process is for the benefit of Indian Football’s secured future.”

Competitive Mentality

He also mentioned the competitiveness of the youth, saying, “The idea is to play matches against extremely tough oppositions. The March friendlies were against Oman and UAE – who are among the top teams in Asia. Playing Curacao was also a novel experience for the boys. It serves no purpose of playing lower-ranked teams. The AIFF also needs to be complimented for arranging all of that.”

Working with Stimac

Shanmugam Venkatesh is with the Indian national team since 2015. He has seen the change in management over the years and a change of philosophy, in approaching the game. He is currently working with the Head Coach, Igor Stimac. While sharing his experience with the Croatian, Venkatesh mentioned, “At the very outset prior to speaking about technical aspects, I need to highlight that Mr. Stimac is an epitome of a perfect human being. His training sessions are all match-oriented which allows the players to settle down fast.

He manages the micro along with the macro, he goes into every detail with much detailing, and that has allowed me to take forward together the philosophy into the Indian Arrows,” he added.

Shanmugam Venkatesh also didn’t forget to mention how fortunate he is to work with the Croatian. “Understandably, he is a person of such a huge stature and I consider myself lucky to grasp as much as I can from him. He is always so calm, never under pressure. He has never come across as an in-secured person, and allows space to every support staff including myself and the players. Always open to ideation, and talks, his heart beats for Indian football.”

Domestic vs International football

It is worthy of mentioning that Venkatesh was not only the captain of Indian national team, but also a successful player in domestic competitions. While asked about comparing both of those responsibilities, he said, “There can be no comparison whatsoever. The intensity, tempo, ball time in international football is ruthless — ask any debutant who has had a taste of international football.

Let me tell you a basic – at the international level, even before you get the ball there are already two players who have pressed you. The pressure is immense and you need to make decisions under pressure. There is very little time to react — in fact, no time. Only the best who have been filtered in the process, thrive here. There are so many examples.”

The apparent improvement

While statistically showcasing the improvement of the national side, Shanmugam Venkatesh explained, “A direct comparison with the first seven matches of the previous World Cup qualifiers – the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifiers which kicked off in 2015 shows us that the average ball possession of the current squad has increased by 10.2% — going up from previous 39.8% to 50%.”

During the previous qualifiers, the number of passes per match was 338 in comparison to 450 in the new set-up. The current passing accuracy is 80% in comparison to 74% previously – an increase of 6 percent. The average length of passes per match have gone down – earlier the average length of passes was 22.2 in comparison to the current 20.4. The accuracy of the long passes also narrates a positive story – currently it is at 71% in comparison to it being 56% previously.”

Indian national team

The hurdles

Although the evolving process can be gradual and lengthy for some, Shanmugam Venkatesh made it clear that the continuous improvement of individuals are of paramount importance.

“I don’t want to take names but many national team players who were expected to improve on the basics haven’t been able to do it. I reiterate, there isn’t much time for us to regulate it during the short period at the National camp. It needs to be done at the club level – and that would benefit the entire footballing setup.”

He also explained how the different approaches of the coaches in club football affect players to come up together while representing the national side. At the same time, various clubs have different playing styles in comparison to the national team – which means that not everyone will be in sync to the adjustment to the totally different style of football in the national team.”

Trust the process

Shanmugam Venkatesh along with the other staff is fighting against all these difficulties along with the players to ensure a brighter future for Indian football. The positivity of hope and competitiveness was clear in his voice.

“It only substantiates that the strength and conditioning process of the current crop has improved drastically. In comparison to us conceding in the dying minutes, we are now going on and on till the end and making use of every minute — and even scoring towards the end. The mindset is different, the approach is top end – exactly what it should be in top-flight football. Currently, we are far more compact.”

“There are also individual tailor-made programmes sent to all the players for the time they are away from the National team set-up. For the entire pandemic, we have been keeping a close tab on all,” he concluded.

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