By Jagannath Chatterjee
New Delhi, April 21 (IANS) From being a critic of the Indian Super League to becoming a self-confessed fan of the professional way the league is run, ATK assistant coach Sanjay Sen has come a long way. And the former Mohun Bagan coach has no qualms in admitting that his perception of the league changed once he joined the Kolkata-based franchise.
“I was actually very critical of the ISL when it started in 2014. I didn’t like the format, the concept of those retired World Cup stars as marquee players,” Sen told IANS.
“Till the beginning of 2018, I was very successful in the I-League. In fact, as coach of Mohun Bagan, I won the I-League title and the Federation Cup. But because of the poor performance of the team in the 2017-18 season, I resigned.
“In January 2018, Sanjeev Goenka asked me to meet him and when I went to meet him, he asked me to join his team in ISL. Though I was apprehensive, when I saw that Derek is joining, Shabir Pasha is joining, I thought let me see myself what is there.
“And let me tell you that yes there is a big difference. Here in ISL teams are handled more professionally. In I-League clubs are not run that professionally, except for Bangaluru FC, when it was playing in I-League. And of course money is a factor.”
Sen went on to explain that there is a lot of freedom when it comes to functioning in the ISL as also the added advantage of sharing the dressing room with some of the best names in the world of football. And that for him, is a joy in itself.
“In the I-League, when we used to go for away matches we could take only four to five support staff. But in ISL, we can take as many support staff as the team management thinks fit. That’s a huge difference. The AIFF also allows registration of only a team of 22 which includes 18 players. In ISL, you yourself see how many support staff are there in the dugout. So that’s a huge difference.
“Apart from this, sharing the same dressing room with coaches like Steve Coppell, whose huge experience as a player of Manchester United and as manager of Manchester City and many other clubs in English Premier League (EPL) and Antonio Lopez Habas, who has worked with coaches like Diago Simione in Spanish league, is huge.
“I feel happy about what the likes of Coppell and Habas are doing. I was also doing earlier, but obviously in a different way. There are differences of the way we work and they work, and that is the thing to learn. They are much more professional than us. And there is no question about it. They just live football, devoting their full time for football. Here what I can say, including myself, we are not hundred per cent professional,” he explained.
While there aren’t too many Indian coaches in the set-up, Sen says that he has enjoyed his journey with the ISL and wishes to see more Indians in the coaching side of the ISL.
“There is a criterion that one has to be a pro-licence holder coach or you have to be an assistant coach in an ISL team and then you can coach an ISL team. Hope to see more Indian coaches. I did have my doubts when I joined the ISL, but now I can tell you that I have enjoyed my stint,” he signed off.