Gokulam Kerala head coach Anthony Andrews said being favourites is a matter of perception after his team won the Indian Women's League (IWL) champions for the third season in a row last week.
Teams built on paper, insofar as he is concerned, can be folded and thrown in the air to fly as far as the wind takes them. The important thing is 'homework', a word he uses liberally in conversation.
In a final, and maybe even a league played to their tunes, Gokulam Kerala beat Kickstart FC Karnataka 5-0 to become the Indian Women's League champions for the third season in a row.
It comes and goes in various ways. We did our homework. If the players have done their homework then there is no pressure. As coaches, it is important to do our homework. Making mistakes is acceptable but you must do your homework. Doing the homework will help you succeed.
It is understandable if the mind wanders back to classrooms and blackboards, the smell of dry chalk and the fear of punishment creeping in. But more words help. These are out of syllabus, but also extremely relevant today. Words like honesty, transparency, conversation and clarity of thought.
"I think that's the one thing that stands out," AIFF.com quoted Blue Tigresses captain and Gokulam Kerala defender Ashalata Devi as saying.
"A lot of coaches have this 'my way or the highway' philosophy. They know how they want to play and expect players to work around it. But with him, it's always a conversation. He'll always put things on the table and invite others to offer opinions," she added.
It's the only way Andrews, the first coach to win two Hero IWL titles in succession, knows to do it. He insists that building trust, cultivating it rather than demanding it, is the only way coaches can succeed. And homework, of course.
Case in point Gokulam Kerala's quarter-final game against Odisha FC -- a blockbuster clash that was worthy of a final in itself. Andrews calls it a 'wake-up call', a moment that strengthened the team's resolve and forced them to adapt to crises.
"We'd done our homework on how Odisha FC play. I'd watched every game they played in the league before our game, and even in training sessions, we'd worked on specific weaknesses they have and what channels and players we should target," Andrews said.
Within minutes of kick-off though, Gokulam were chasing the game. Andrews did not panic, and if anything, only urged his team forward, bouncing on the touchline, and talking to his players constantly. It was all deliberate, a way to ensure that his players didn't drop their heads, a way to let them know that he was not just invested in them but also trusted them to do right.
As it was, Gokulam equalised, before facing a second crisis by going down to 10 players, and then the lottery of a dreaded shootout. It is perhaps the one aspect of the game where coaches have a minimal role to play, the battle entirely mano a mano. Andrews begs to differ, albeit only on principle.
"As a coach, you have to be prepared for every scenario," he said. "We did our homework. From the time we realised we had qualified for the knockouts, we started practising penalties in training. We analysed players' tendencies and did the analysis that would help our goalkeepers. But yes, all credit to Beatrice (Ntiwaa Nketia)." The Ghanaian saved from Anju Tamang, Bala Devi and Pyari Xaxa, as Gokulam won 3-0 in the shootout to progress to the semis.
For a man who has now won two Hero IWLs (in addition to the multiple accolades and trophies at the age-group level for various clubs), there seem to be few ceilings yet to breach, and yet Andrews is quick to clarify that is not true. "Coaches," he said, "have to keep learning. We always have to learn from our players."
For Gokulam, the AFC Women's Club Championship 2023 beckons. It will be the first time Andrews will take charge at the continental level, and he hopes the club can get results that will breach new frontiers.
"We have to start from scratch. We can't rest on what happened. Prepare again," he said. It is what he believes separates Gokulam from the trailing pack. The club has led the way for women's football in the country and Andrews believes that their recruitment, the time spent in camp and the involvement from everyone involved within the organisation shows the passion that exists for the game.
"He's like a parent but also like a friend. He's protective, always there to help players and advise them, and also there to take feedback, listen, and join in the fun," Ashalata said summing up the work of a man working to elevate women's football. (ANI)