Till the end of the 20th century, the Asian Games football tournament had no age restrictions and senior teams participated.
India will not be participating for the third time in the Asian Games football tournament, which kicks off on August 14. Earlier in both 1990 and 1994, the Indian Olympic Association did not clear the national football team for the Asian Games as it was felt they were not a medal prospect and the standard was way below Asian level.
Till the end of the 20th century, the Asian Games football tournament had no age restrictions and senior teams participated. So in 2018, it is for the first time since the Asiad football competition was restricted to U-23 year’s teams that India will not participate.
The dismay at not participating in the Asian Games has got offset by the remarkable performances of the India U-20 and U-16 team that beat Argentina 2-1 and Iraq 1-0 in the Cotif Cup in Spain and a regional tournament in Amman, respectively. The Indian players deserve plaudits for these victories and it should give them self-belief for future matches. However, these victories also highlighted the coming of age of Indian coaches at least at the junior level. The exposure tours and training camps held overseas with world-class facilities have not only helped the players develop but have also seen the coaches evolve. Interacting with coaches and players from countries, which have a developed football culture has enabled Bibiano Fernandez (U-16 coach) and Floyd Pinto (U-20 coach) to improve themselves. For keeping faith in Indian coaches, kudos to the technical committee of the All Indian Football Federation headed by the legendary Shyam Thapa. Credit also goes to the AIFF for providing regular international exposure to the national age group teams. The U-16 national team has been playing regularly in Europe and Asia since January 2018.
Bibiano and Pinto have had contrasting careers. The 41-year-old Fernandes is a former international midfielder known for his astute passing. Bibiano then took to coaching and spent many years at the Sesa Football Academy, churning out many promising players.
In contrast, the 33-year-old Pinto was a budding engineer studying Information Technology at the Don Bosco College in Mumbai. His school principal, Father Adolf Furtado of Don Bosco School in Matunga, recommended Pinto for a coaching position at Kenkre FC. He later did his B license and A license courses. Scott O’Donnell — the former technical director of the AIFF — offered the young Kenkre coach a job at the AIFF Elite Academy. That is how Pinto’s coaching career took off.
Pinto became famous when he coached AIFF Elite Academy which beat BK Hakken Sweden and the Sports School, Ragunan, Indonesia in the quarterfinal and semifinal respectively of the 2015 Subroto Mukherjee Cup international tournament. Some players who excelled in the 2015 Subroto Cup triumph like Edmund Lalrindika, Anirudh Thapa, Baoringdao Bodo, Rahul Yadav and Jerry Lalrinzuala are now regulars in India’s U-20 squad.