Eelco Schattorie: More success, not immediate ones, should be the goal

Probably one of the most enigmatic personalities to have graced the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) and Indian football stage, Eelco Schattorie has been a fan-favourite during his time at NorthEast United FC and then at Kerala Blasters FC. The Dutchman recently joined Anant Tyagi in the third edition of Let’s Football Live for a candid chat and addressed several topics like his time in India, the road ahead for Indian football, his future, Sahal Abdul Samad and more.

Here are some of the highlights from the session.

Eelco’s Indian adventure

Looking back at his journey in India till now, Schattorie reminisced, “In 2013, I arrived in India for the first time. Will Koevermans was the India national team head coach back then. I got a call from an agent asking if I was interested in working in India. I talked to Koevermans, whom I knew, and I found out about Indian football. It was a sleeping giant and I wanted to get a foot in. I joined Prayag United in November and finished third in the I-League. Due to certain circumstances I had to leave. Two years later, I joined East Bengal but it wasn’t quite the right time. The club was going through some issues and I left after three months.”

“Then Avram Grant came to NorthEast United FC and I joined him there in 2017. Next season, he left the club and I took over as head coach. We reached the semis and then I came to Kerala,” he added.

The Kerala season

Hero ISL 2019-20 wasn’t quite the most memorable one for the Dutchman. Having joined the Blasters after a fantastic season which saw him guide the Highlanders to their first Hero ISL semi-finals in the 2018-19 season, a similar feat, at the minimum, was expected of Schattorie with the Kochi-based outfit last term. Things, however, didn’t quite turn out according to plans as Kerala fell short and finished seventh despite playing some attractive football. Looking back, he noted, “I had a very positive conversation with the management before I joined and was eager to get started. I didn’t have complete control over the recruitment and it could have been stronger but that wasn’t a big problem.”

“With the team we had, we should have qualified for the semis if everyone stayed fit. But honestly, we lacked the consistency. In the end, I take responsibility for the fact that we didn’t succeed. But there were external things at play as well. Our pre-season was poor and it was a big blow to our plans. Also, there were several injuries. I haven’t seen so many injuries in a season in my 25 years of coaching. We played 17 matches with different starting line-ups,” he further illustrated.

Future at Kerala

Asked about his future at Kerala, Schattorie opted to remain coy and stated, “I know the answer. But the club hasn’t given it out. It’s up to the club to announce that.”

On Sahal Abdul Samad

 Under Schattorie, the Hero ISL 2018-19 Emerging Player of the League, Sahal Abdul Samad, was restricted to only 792 minutes of gametime in the 2019-20 season. The Dutchman’s relationship with the youngster has often been the topic of speculations on social media. Addressing the same, Schattorie provided his reasoning for his limited use of the 23-year-old. “I have seen people joking that Eelco Schattorie has a big mouth and promised to make Sahal the best midfielder in India but couldn’t. I want to reiterate that If I have the time, I can make him the best midfielder in India. I understand what talent means. When grooming a young boy transitioning from junior to senior football, the first thing you have to do is instill the winning mentality. He plays with intuition, is very creative but when you are in a system, you have to perform a particular role to help the team win.”

“However, fitting into a system is something he hasn’t done. I think since Sahal didn’t particularly come from a competitive football club background, he comes from a football school in Dubai. He has a lot of quality but you need to give him time to fit into a system. In the last few matches, he was really working hard and I have to praise him for that. It takes time to build up the consistency, and if I get more time I can help him there.”

Other Kerala youngsters

Picking up the topic of other Kerala youngsters he worked with this season, Schattorie remarked, “Samuel Lalmuanpuia, I think, is one of the best players in Indian football. But physicality plays a big role in football, including in the Hero ISL. I used him tactically in a few matches, and he changed matches. But to be a consistent value to a team, he needs to build himself up, improve his upper body strength. If you see Redeem Tlang, he’s not too big but has good upper body strength. Jeakson is a great player technically, he has the body and brain but he needs to be more ruthless in his approach. Rahul KP, I really wish I could have had him for longer. Sadly, he went out injured. He is fast, has fantastic shooting ability and has tremendous potential.”

Rowllin Borges – the KDB of India

Answering a fans’ query about other Indian players who have impressed him, Schattorie opined, “One player I think has a huge potential is Ashique Kuruniyan from Bengaluru FC. I remember the game he played as a striker in the Asian Cup in UAE. The way he held up the ball showed to me how talented he is. He is great technically. FC Goa’s Brandon Fernandes and Rowllin Borges are two other players I like a lot.”

“Borges’ style is a little like Kevyn De Bruyne. He is one of my favourites. He is a box-to-box player, has good passing, can score goals and provide assists. Most coaches see him as a defensive player but I see him as an attacking player,” he further added about the midfielder he helped mould during his time at NorthEast.

The Hero ISL and fans

Speaking about his experience with the Hero ISL and the fans in general, the Dutchman said, “I think the tension around the league is great. The media attention, the atmosphere, etc, makes it very professional. I think the level is very good.”

He also expressed his admiration for Kerala’s Manjappada and stated, “There are so many people involved with the club, passionate about football. It’s brilliant. You feel how much they are involved with the team, but fans should also understand results don’t come overnight. During tough times, the club needs its fans. It’s not easy to cater to the expectations of such a huge fanbase. I want the connection and I try to explain to them what I am trying to accomplish as much as I can. I think the majority of the fanbase is behind me and they are a fantastic fanbase.”

Schattorie also had some warm words for the Highlanders faithful. “NorthEast was also a special experience. They, too, have a wonderful fanbase. I got a lot of love from them and I like the region as well. My journey at NorthEast was different. It was challenging but we stuck together and it was a fantastic journey. Sadly, we lost Bartholomew Ogbeche and Rowllin with injury in the first semi-final of that season and we didn’t have enough quality in the squad to cope with it.”

The way forward

Asked for his take on the way forward for Indian football in general, Schattorie declared, “It’s important to have well-structured clubs. Thinking long term, doesn’t guarantee you immediate success but what it guarantees is more success. That should be the goal. The organization of the club matters for a lot. You should have a good second team and a second league. It’s important for the development of football.”

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