Aizawl FC was the surprise package of last season in Indian football. The side conquered the I-League and brought Mizo football into the limelight of the sporting fraternity of the country. At the start of the season much was expected from them, unrealistically most would say. Fairy tales don’t occur everytime and Aizawl FC was no exception. Their Portuguese manager fell prey to the high expectations of the officials, some may say a decision taken in a hurry as Paulo Menezes was doing a good job.
But then was appointed Santosh Kashyap, a man who had coaching experiences in clubs like Mohun Bagan in his CV. But after the appointment , many did not sound optimistic and some even took negative standpoints regarding the potential future of Aizawl. But after the completion of eighteen matches, as it stands, the Mizoram outfit has cemented their top six finish in the league and has secured entry to the Super Cup main rounds, something for which the 51 year old was brought in and thus pretty much silencing his critics, atleast for the time being.
Talk Sports 24X7 decided to catch-up with Santosh Kashyap and he expressed us his thoughts regarding the club and also Indian football.
○TS 24X7: First of all congratulations Mr. Kashyap for securing the direct entry of Aizawl FC into the main rounds of Super Cup. You have probably done what you were brought in for. You must be a happy man now?
●Kashyap: Thank You! Yeah you can say that. I could do for what I was brought to do in less sessions, less time. And then I wanted to keep it simplified and the boys implemented that on the field and we have got a positive result. Inspite of a very tight schedule we managed to pull out an important draw and then the win. Our target was to finish top six and we achieved that.
○TS 24X7: When you took charge of Aizawl FC, Paulo Menezes had just left then. At that time what was the condition in the dressing room and the team as a whole?
●Kashyap: Yeah there were many injuries which was a big concern. And they were doing many mistakes in attacking, defending, overall to be precise. I have been following their tactics, I have been following the I-League quite well as I am in this business. I have been following all the teams. The major thing I noted incase of Aizawl was that they were doing too many mistakes in defending. So they were scoring but at the same time was conceding goals and matches were ending up in draws or losses and points were lost. But since I took over, the boys have gelled quite well. Especially the young players, there are many talented local players who are playing their first I-League you know and they adapted to my system quite well.
○TS 24X7: Mr. Kashyap, Aizawl is featuring in AFC Cup and is in a very tough group alongside BFC, Dhaka Abahani and New Radiant of Maldives. Do you feel that it would be tough to make the cut to next round or do you believe that there is realistic chance?
●Kashyap: Yeah it will obviously be tough because BFC is a tough team and they are one of the best teams in India and are topping ISL. And then there are our Maldivian opponents and also the team from Bangladesh. So it would be tough. But let’s see, we will give our best, our hundred percent and make sure that we move up. We will try to do well and win.
○TS 24X7: One major issue of Aizawl this season as many would say has been some foreigners probably. Kareem is out injured for a long time but the management did not show much urgency in finding his replacement. And as it seems there is also probably lack of a goal-scorer. Would you like to make some changes to the roster ahead of the Super Cup and how are you looking forward to this new tournament?
●Kashyap: At the moment I am happy with the team and my boys. Talking about foreigners, Dodoz has scored 4 goals in 5 matches. He has not scored a single goal before that. I only tried to pass my knowledge to him as much as I could and he delivered. Same thing with other guys. Alfred is doing well, played a good role. This is his third season with the club. Masih is back, he was out but then he returned and was fantastic in the last match. We were to sign Chidi but then he is now stucked in the VISA process. He will hopefully be there soon and if he arrives then it will be a good addition. We can rely on our young players. Yes the level may be different but we have to rely upon the sources we have, the players we have at the moment.
○TS 24X7: You are a seasoned football personality and a well known name in Indian football. As someone associated with the game for a long time, do you feel that a unification or merger of the top flight leagues will do better for the game?
●Kashyap : Yes obviously! This season is the first time when the two leagues have run parallelly. This becomes tough, tough for the coaches, tough for the players, tough for everyone associated. So hope it will take a progression to something better and if in future both the leagues merge or something like that happens then it will be fantastic. I hope the progression will be in the right way and we will have new challenges. The Federation is working on it, and I think they are doing good. Like they have introduced Super Cup, this is good for Indian football.
The levels of the league will be different. There will be many players who will be getting opportunity. The young players will fight hard to move to the top. So if there is a merger, a bigger single league of 9-10 months, like everywhere in the World then I think it will be good.
○TS 24X7: Ok….one final question. What are your expectations from your tenure at Aizawl? And if you would want to send some message to the fans.
●Kashyap: I have honestly not set any targets. I am taking one match at a time. So if we focus on one match and win then we will automatically touch our target. Like top six was the target after I took charge and we did that. It’s not possible to be champions every year.
Talking about the fans, they are great, absolutely great. Fans have been there in all matches and they made their presence felt throughout the ninety minutes. They are always in full volume and full of passion and very very supportive you know. They have been really fantastic and it’s something of great pleasure. On the day of our last match there was a festival here, ‘Chapchar Kut’. So if we would have lost then they would be sorrow. We were trailing at the half-time but then we returned and they supported us in full volume and we scored three goals and won the match! After the match got over, all fans came onto the ground and they danced and celebrated in joy. It’s not a very big club but they are doing a great job. So the win that day was really special on that occasion as the fans got involved. And same thing is in the away matches of ours. They also travel a lot. In our AFC matches which are in Guwahati, we will need their support there also. At the end I will say that the club is on the right track. See, there will be many challenges and it’s very difficult to win the league every year(light smile) but I think we achieving top six is quite respectable and let’s see how far we can go from here on by taking one match at a time.
○TS 24X7: Thanks Mr. Kashyap for your time!
●Kashyap: Fine! And it was really nice talking to you.