As his former teammates and friends have known for a long, long time, Steven Dias leaves little room for complacency. He is that humblest, honest, respectful person. At 36, he is a little past his youth, but he still gets as excited as any young teenager at the prospect of a new challenge.
And that’s why his second stint as an assistant coach brings a very familiar emotion for him.
“I am feeling like a youngster joining a new club, you know? I feel that excitement,” Dias tells The Bridge after being announced as the new assistant coach of Indian Super League (ISL) outfit Odisha FC. “It’s like when I first joined Mahindra United as a player,” he laughs a little.
His excitement, here, is quite justified. After all, very much like his playing career, his coaching journey is progressing in breakneck speed. Last season, Dias was working closely with Spanish coach Antonio Iriondo, his first experience of coaching at a professional setup. And right after that, he will be working at Odisha FC.
“Personally, it's a huge learning curve for me. Starting my coaching journey directly in an ISL club, under an experienced coach has certainly helped me massively. And now, to think in my second campaign, I will be working under Stuart Baxter... There's just so much to learn from them,” Dias says.
The decision to join Odisha was not a difficult one to take. Working beside Baxter, a coach who comes in with proven pedigree and massive experience, is a tempting offer.
As a player, a well established winger who plied his trade extensively in the I-League and in the ISL as well, Dias trained under a number of reputed coaches, from Bob Houghton to David Booth and he was always keenly observing how they handled themselves around the team. How they put across their thoughts to the players, explained tactics, helped young players.
Houghton was a taskmaster and yet earned the loyalty and trust of his players. It goes without saying that Dias wants to emulate the same. According to him, Baxter is of the same breed as Houghton, cut from the same cloth.
“Before signing, I spoke with coach Baxter, we had a couple of long discussions via video calls where he told me about his plans, how he envisions the club's style of play,” Dias says. “I immediately liked his mentality.”
“I have worked under Bob Houghton, David Booth and somehow, I felt that Baxter is very similar to them. The way he spoke about Indian football and young players, it peaked my interest. I did not hesitate much, I didn't have any doubts about joining Odisha after talking with the coach.”
Dias will work with the experienced Stuart Baxter at Odisha FC (Source: DailyHunt)
On top of all this, the icing on the cake for Dias is Odisha’s philosophy of developing their youth setup and building a team around Indian talent.
“Odisha’s youth development plans are impressive to say the least. Personally, I feel that every team should have local players, the more the merrier. Odisha should have players from the state, if it's a team from Mumbai, they should have players from Mumbai, only then will Indian football grow. And so far, the plans I have seen at Odisha FC, I like them very much,” he says.
Speaking of the current state of Indian football, Dias believes the advent of the ISL has changed the entire landscape.
“Things have changed, of course. You can see the professionalism in today's players. In our days, we did not know how to maintain ourselves... what diet was required, how to cool off after training sessions, how to take rest, how you have to maintain your fitness in the off season, how to conduct yourself in front of the media, all these things, we did not know. You simply cannot deny that the ISL has played a big role in Indian football in recent years. After it came, football completely changed in India,” he says.
“And all this has helped me individually a lot also. I remember when I was a player, I had to do everything myself. I had to talk to the clubs, negotiate with them and all those things. Now players and coaches can just concentrate on football. I have grown as an individual as well as a professional.”
“If you ask me now where I see myself in 5-10 years, I would not know the answer. I definitely aim to coach the national team one day. Hopefully, before that I can coach an ISL team. But there’s a lot of time for that, I have just started,” Dias concludes.