New Delhi: “Everything I know about football, I learned from him. It was a totally new experience – working on tactics, he changed the way club was playing, we were playing like Europeans," says 23-year old Amir Rehman, one of the local players for Real Kashmir FC – a club that scripted history as it became the first ever team from Jammu and Kashmir to win promotion to I-League, after they defeated Delhi-based Hindustan FC 3-2 in a thrilling finale.
The person Amir happens to be talking about is Real Kashmir FC’s coach David Robertson, who had a glittering career at Scottish giants Rangers, winning six consecutive league titles as well as three Scottish Cup and Scottish League club titles.
Robertson was in United States, working with Phoenix FC before moving to Real Kashmir FC.
“When this opportunity came about, what I liked was that we could start from scratch as it was a new club. You don’t get such opportunities often, normally when you work with an established club, there is only as far as you can go but here I can really leave a mark,” he says, talking exclusively to News18.
He has certainly left more than a mark as a disciplined performance throughout the campaign helped his side overcome some of the financially stronger teams in the league to seal promotion.
Kashmir isn’t a place really known for its football and harsh winters make the job tougher for local players like Amir, who has been playing the game since he was in 6th standard and looks up to Andres Iniesta as a role model.
“We get used to it, all the boys in Kashmir have been playing football in snow for a long time,” he says.
Robertson isn’t among the batch of foreign coaches you see moaning about the lack of facilities or talent. Instead, he says that the astroturf at TRC (Tourist Reception Centre) is one of the best he has seen, the only problem is that there is only one such facility in the state which has to be shared with other teams.
He also vouches for talent in Kashmir and feels this victory can help put the state on the football map in India.
“The talent level is quite high. The only thing holding football back is the lack of information. Only two players from the state have played at the highest level. You need players to get exposure. Foreign players aren’t allowed to play in local leagues, so the players don’t get to play with the best. I hope things change after last night. The win has got people talking and young kids can certainly aspire now. People will also start looking at them differently,” he says.
The Scot credits the incredible amount of self-belief and determination as the key to his team’s success. He also credits the players for implementing the plans to the inch despite some language issues, which he is starting to overcome slowly.
“I am beginning to understand bits and pieces of the local language, it used to be frustrating at times as I found it difficult to get my plans across, especially during a game. But what I liked was the willingness to learn, they carried out instructions as was said to them and then managed to solve the problems on the pitch.
“We setup the team in January 2017 and then had a good amount of time to prepare. First aim was to get out of the group, we knew it would be tough as we had some strong teams. But after playing all the teams, I really fancied out chances. Victories over Ozone where came back from 2-1 down helped increase the self-belief. Even against Hindustan FC, 20 minutes into the match I knew we would win, the desire and intensity was such, the players were hungry to perform,” he adds.
Robertson knows that the road ahead is only going to get tougher. Competing in the I-League against the likes of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal among others won’t be easy and things will have to change a bit if the club is to challenge in the league.
“We will certainly sign some foreign players but first we will have to test the squad. Right now everyone is celebrating the win. I will be heading to Srinagar on Friday and then take a look at things both on & off the field, the preparation this time was fantastic but now we need to step up to compete with the big boys,” he says, signing off.