"There is a lot of prejudice towards Indian coaches in ISL" - Bino George
The Santosh Trophy-winning coach of Kerala, Bino George speaks to The Bridge about his team's campaign, ISL and more.
"There is just a lot of prejudice, I feel, against Indian coaches in ISL," says Bino George – the man who took Kerala to their seventh Santosh Trophy title last week, when asked about the lack of Indian coaches in the country's topmost league.
It was not until Khalid Jamil took over North East United FC as an interim coach in 2020-21 that an Indian was in charge of an ISL team. Derrick Pereira was named the head coach of FC Goa soon after and these two remain the only Indian nationals to have ever coached a team in ISL.
"If you are studying mathematics – then no matter which university you study from, be it in India or abroad, what they teach you is the exact same thing. This is true for football as well. It does not matter whether you appoint a foreign coach or a homegrown one, ultimately they teach the same thing. This is something these franchises need to understand," George tells The Bridge.
The 45-year-old, who has previously coached Gokulam Kerala FC in I-League feels that coaches from the country are on-par with the ones recruited from abroad.
"We are on the same level as these foreign coaches. Yes, the coaching style may differ but there would not be a single thing that they know which we don't," he says.
Having taken over as the coach of Kerala in 2019 after they failed to qualify for Santosh Trophy in the previous year, George has proven he is no pushover by inspiring the team to their seventh title in the very next season.
"I came on board as the coach of Kerala after that disastrous 2018-19 season where we failed to reach the main round despite being the defending champions. I remember I was the technical director with Gokulam when the Kerala Football Association (KFA) approached me. It has been a long time since then. Two seasons were lost due to the pandemic, but on my first full season in Santosh Trophy we have brought back the title," he beams with pride.
Coaching a team is all about freedom – freedom to choose the players you want, freedom to play the way you want, believes Bino George.
"To be a successful coach, all you need is freedom and that's something I had in abundance from KFA. I had the freedom to select and play the players I wanted, players who suited my style of play and no one ever questioned. The result is right in front of you," he states.
The freedom was such that George made the team from scratch. He brought in the likes of Adersh V, captain Jijo Joseph, the young sensation TK Jesin, and others into the team – all of whom played a vital role in Kerala's title-winning campaign last week.
Though he managed to lift the trophy in his debut as the Kerala coach, he was not very pleased with the way the final panned out.
"The final was the worst game we played. We were dominating the league stages like maniacs before surprisingly going into a shell in the final. It was probably pressure," he wonders.
But whatever happened, George had it under control. Or he had it all planned.
"From putting an extra striker in place of a defender in the second half to listing down who will take the penalties and in what order, I had it all planned before the match and it is this preparation which dug us out of the hole in the end," George states.
It was after years that Santosh Trophy managed to grab so many eyeballs in this edition. This had to do with the fact that two of the most popular teams played in the final, according to George.
"Both West Bengal and Kerala failed to qualify for the main round of 2018-19 Santosh Trophy and with two years lost due to pandemic, fans from both states were waiting eagerly to watch their teams. And the fact that it boiled down to Bengal and Kerala helped Santosh Trophy gain so much hype this year," he explains.
He, however, is quick to admit that the ISL is the topmost footballing league in the country and it is here to stay.
"It would be difficult for any other football league to throw down ISL now. It is the highest football league right now in India and you cannot ignore that. All the top players play there and so Santosh Trophy and everything is just a step to reaching ISL for the upcoming players. In fact, a lot of our players had multiple lucrative offers in their hands even before the season ended," George smirks.