“I don’t come from a sports background, but my parents have always supported and encouraged me to take up sports”, says Akhil, as he starts to narrate his journey. Coming from a city like Mumbai, where every other kid dreams to be a Cricketer, the 23-year-old is carving a path for himself like none other. The Mumbaikar has already completed his AFC A License at such a young age, which allows the coaches to coach and train top-tier professional football clubs. In fact, he is the youngest coach in our country, holding such an esteemed distinction. The part that follows transcribes the interview.
On his playing career:
“I went to St. Mary’s School in Mazgaon, which is known for its sports and I played multiple sports as a kid. However, I had a special calling for the sport of Football and enjoyed playing it the most. I also represented my school in the Inter-school age group competitions and it was during this period, I met Mr. Adib Kenkre (Founder of Kenkre F.C.). Under his guidance, I joined the youth ranks of Kenkre Football Club and played for them for a period of six years (including the senior team).”
Turning injury into an opportunity:
“When I was recovering and rehabilitating from my knee injury, I used to spend a lot of time at the Kenkre Football center in Matunga and it was during this period, I got an opportunity to interact with the kids who used to come to the academy to learn and play Football. Seeing my involvement with the younger players, the current C.E.O of the club Mr. Joshua Lewis and an elderly well-wisher encouraged me to take up coaching and this kick-started my coaching career.”
Continued progression as a coach:
“In my time at Kenkre’s as a coach, I got the wonderful opportunity to train players right from the age of six to the senior team. My coaching journey at the club, started by coaching 6-year old’s at their academy in Dadar and it was during this period, I was further guided and supported by Mr. Floyd Pinto (Former Kenkre and India U-19 head coach) and (Mr. Joshua Lewis) to undergo my coaching licenses. I completed my AIFF ‘D’ license course in 2014, which completely changed my perception and outlook towards the game. This further enabled me to assist (Mr. Floyd Pinto) in coaching the U-17 team and I went on to climb the age group ladder in coaching, by managing the U-19 team as well as the Senior team of the club who were playing in the Second Division I-League.”
New beginnings – Iron Born F.C.
“My association with Kenkre Football Club lasted for a duration of nine years, where not only I grew and developed as a footballer, but also, as a coach.” He further went on to add, “I still look back at my time at Kenkre’s with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.”
“In my next assignment, I got an opportunity to join a newly formed club called Iron Born F.C. as their Head of Grassroots Development and Youth Team coach. It was altogether a different experience and challenge for me. However, just like in Kenkre’s, I was blessed to have incredible support and guidance in the form of Ms. Suzanne Chowdhry (C.E.O of Iron Born F.C.) and she always motivated me to implement new things, which made my job fun and easy.”
The journey from ‘D’ license to AFC ‘A’ license and importance of completing licenses:
“In addition to my licenses, I have also completed the Grassroots Leaders Course (AIFF ‘E’ License certificate) when it existed. As far as the AFC ‘A’ license is concerned, it is not an easy task. It is like doing an MBA course, as it involves series of tasks, such as practical, theoretical, match analysis, and other assignments over a period of six months, which makes it really demanding and exciting.”
“Licenses help you to upgrade yourself, and will only make you better. In my experience, I have met a lot of coaches from different states and former professional footballers who have represented the country. I believe there is a lot of knowledge shared in the process, which will help you upgrade yourself. I feel that through my interactions I have managed to update and upgrade my football knowledge.”
Foreign coaches in India and steps to nurture young Indian coaches:
“There is no doubt that some of the Indian coaches are really good and more than capable of managing key positions. It is a common perception that foreign coaches hold key positions. But, there are a lot of good foreign coaches with Indian assistants, and we can benefit and learn from them, especially when we get the chance, we need to take up the responsibility and perform. It is up to us to raise our level of professionalism, work ethic and get better.”
“We need more competition, longer duration leagues with more matches, there have to be leagues for all categories for both boys and girls in various districts, because the more opportunities being created will only benefit the Indian coaches.” he suggested when asked what can be done to develop and nurture young Indian coaches.
Grassroots development in India and the situation in Mumbai:
“Grassroots is something which starts at home, and parents play a very key role in that. In a way we have changed over the years, we are not the same. Now, if you see in Mumbai, the Mumbai School Sports Association (MSSA) has around 250 schools playing in the Inter-school tournaments, the MDFA Youth League has around 250 teams playing in their leagues, and with AIFF introducing their ‘Baby League’ concept now provides a lot of opportunities to play, which was not the case in my playing days. So, the opportunities are coming for both boys and girls to play, and all this helps to grow grassroots football in India.”
Talking about how introduction of tournaments will help foster homegrown talent, he also said “These longer duration tournaments will not only help the players with their growth but also the coaches with their planning, tactics, and everything.”
Talking about the issues on developing grassroots football, he also opined “In Mumbai, it is disproportionate how we have only two full-size grounds for around 350 teams. These two grounds hold matches for the senior teams, youth team games, and women’s competitions. But, Mr. Aaditya Thackeray, President of Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA), is helping the Association in getting more grounds for the league games.
One of the things I see in Maharashtra and Mumbai is that no professional clubs are competing in the I-league or Second Division I-League. So, having clubs from Mumbai and other cities in Maharashtra will be a huge boost for the local talent as they would have a platform to develop and flourish.”
Advice to young coaches:
“It is very important to keep yourself motivated and work hard, be in a competitive environment where you can grow. Secondly, you need to have very good mentors like I mentioned I had good mentors at the clubs I have been to (at Kenkre and Iron Born) to support and guide you in your career. And lastly, it is important to get your licenses and keep yourself updated.”
Follow our website for the latest Indian Football updates.