It’s been a year since the Indian Super League (ISL) was launched to great fanfare; 12 months later, the same old faces have been making the same promises this summer that the tournament will help ‘give birth to a footballing nation’.
One man expected to play a major role in that birthing process is the latest legend to be drawn to India. At 42 years old, Roberto Carlos will combine turf and touchline as player-manager of Delhi Dynamos for the second season of the ISL.
His appointment is a move seen with equal measure of optimism and cynicism. Carlos the manager is expected to take the young, inexperienced Indian players under his wing, and impart some valuable lessons. But three years since his official retirement, and at the wrong side of 40, there is apprehension about how much he can contribute as a player.
Inspiring talk with my coach and idol, Roberto Carlos pic.twitter.com/wrXbhag3Uw
— John Arne Riise (@JARiiseOfficial) September 2, 2015
The man himself isn’t worried. He talks fast and in third person, occasionally pausing for the benefit of the translator sitting next to him.
“I practice my free-kicks every day. Of course, at the age of 42 the quality is not what it was but I’m still determined to show India the best of Roberto Carlos,” the former Real Madrid left-back tells Sport360.
“There are seven days in a week. I take seven free kicks daily. Earlier, I used to practice with a dummy for one hour every day. But don’t say this to children here in India that Roberto Carlos practices free-kick daily for one hour. It is dangerous for them.”
Carlos replaces another footballing icon, Alessandro del Piero, as Delhi’s marquee manager. The Italian had a rather disappointing stint in India’s capital, scoring just once and struggling to cope with the humidity. Still, he was by far the biggest name last season. If Del Piero was the ‘Super’ in last year’s ISL, there are few doubts over who holds that status this season.
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Unlike Del Piero, Carlos wishes to be more proactive. His role demands it. The World Cup winner says he wants to “teach new playing techniques to the players, sharpen their skills and improve their fitness levels.” And like the Brazilian teams of the past, he wants Delhi to play “aggressive, skilful and positive game” and build a “world-class’ team”.
His stint in Turkey, where he coached clubs Akhisar and Sivasspor, has made him wiser in understanding the nuances of coaching. And Carlos is confident he has the right talent to put his plans in place.
“The quality of Indian players is very high. They need to show motivation to perform at the highest level. I will try to take the best quality of the players and show to the world that India can do well in football.
“I have not had this kind of experience before. It (ISL) will be my first event in India and I am looking to do my best. Indians have always been passionate about football and Brazil has always enjoyed tremendous support here, so I feel happy that I will make a meaningful contribution towards building a world-class team in ISL.”
“Beckham is better than me”
Having Carlos in the dugout gives the young Indian players an opportunity to pick his brains and they have been doing just that so far, with most of the queries concentrated on his famed free-kick taking abilities. He willingly shares his tricks.
“Mostly, I place the ball in such a position so that I can see its valve,” Carlos explains. “That is the hardest part on the surface of the ball. Nowadays, generally, the weight of the balls is low so it is better to take the free-kick like that.
“You should be relaxed before taking the free-kick. You should have confidence in your ability and happiness that you are going to score a goal.”
Carlos makes the art sound ridiculously simple. It’s all about knowing the ball’s position and getting the body balance right, he insists.
“From close range the free-kick is taken with inside of the foot. I will take a run-up of two or three steps and take the kick with the inside of the foot and the ball will travel in a straight line towards the goal. If it is a long-range free-kick, then I will use the outside of my foot. The ball will turn in the air and head towards the goal.
“The ball will be fly either over the wall or curve in through the side,” he explains, conjuring images of his incredible goal against France at Le Tournoi in 1997 (above).
So just how good does Carlos think he is?
“Beckham takes free-kicks better than me,” he says. “It is a joy to watch him take free-kicks and he has proved that free-kicks are not all about power.”
In his early interactions with the Indian players, his advice has been simple: “Plan your free-kick and imagine where you need to hit the ball. Hang a T-shirt under the bar and try to hit it with the ball. You should practice daily using this method.”
Casual conversations during pre-season are one thing, executing the ideas and thinking on his feet during a whirlwind tournament like the ISL will be a challenge for Carlos. Not least because of the language barrier. Excluding Carlos, Delhi have two Brazilian players in their squad – former Corinthians defender Chicao and Gustavo dos Santos, who is on loan from Atletico Paranaense. Other than foreign stars John Arne Riise and Florent Malouda, the rest are all young Indians, some of which can’t understand English.
But Carlos does not think communication will be a problem and is confident that he can help mould a new generation of subcontinent stars.
“Footballers are super-intelligent and there is only one football language: to win, to win, to win. Indians actually have a very high level of quality players – now is the time to show it.”
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