Maymol Rocky became the seventh person to coach the Indian women’s team. She created history in her own way though, when she became the first woman to hold the post.

The 33-year-old laughs when asked about it, “Unfortunately I had no idea when I accepted the job. It’s only when I read about it that I found out. But I am proud to have received this honour.”

A former India international herself, the Kerala-born Rocky was assistant to outgoing coach Sajid Dar and as head coach, her first assignment will be to negotiate two friendlies against the Malaysian women’s team on July 29th and 31st.

Currently gathered in New Delhi for a ten-day long training camp ahead of their trip to the Southeast Asian country, former right-back for the Indian women’s team, Rocky is thankful for the 25-member strong team playing their first friendly in over four years.

An employee of the Sports Authority of Goa, Rocky rues the fact that her team hasn’t arrived to the camp match-fit. “They are here for a short duration but aren’t fit as they don’t play that often. The first objective is to cut our the errors in their game, then bring them up to match-fitness and put them onto tactical training.”

Rocky says that while she ideally wants the team members to play 30 to 40 matches in a year, most of them end up playing between 10 to 12 matches every year. Manipur with 18 national titles out of a total of 22 is so dominant, because they have a inter-district league and a local league among clubs gives them ample game-time, explains Maymol. The government is also very pro-active in recognising talent, as is demonstrated by 21-year old striker Dangmei Grace getting a government job as a Physical Education teacher in the Manipur Sports Department.

The inaugural Indian Women’s League came as a boon for Rocky, who also worked as a scout for the league. “The idea was to have a longer league and we went out and scouted 220 girls for the competition.”

Scouting systems for girls also have to improve and there’s a lot of work to be done in this regard, says Rocky but states that the league was a step in the right direction, “I hope that it will feature 12 to 15 teams soon. Also, hosting an inter-state league will also help these girls immeasurably.” Going abroad has helped the likes of Aditi Chauhan, the team’s number one goalkeeper, feels Maymol. The coach feels that the players will have to play in leagues, whether abroad or at home.

Six teams finally took part in the final IWL after ten clubs played the preliminaries. “There were states where clubs played against each other to compete in the prelims. But others had only one representative. I want those states to run leagues, especially Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand where I would like to see a competition.”

The coach, who was first trained by Sisto Pius in Goa, says her job becomes easier if the girls play more full-time football and spared the hardships of daily life if they are given government jobs or full-time contracts by clubs but insists that the situation is definitely improving.

“I always tell them that education is very important. I make sure they understand it is important for them to get a job in order to secure their futures. Although I want them to sign contracts, I don’t want them to sign flimsy contracts for the sake of signing. It has to be a well-paying one, not a low-paying one running for four to five months a year,” Rocky speaks about the team’s basic necessities.

“When we started playing, there was no concept of a club and only two to three of us including Bembem (Devi) had a job. Then there were players only from two to three states, mostly Manipur and some from West Bengal and Odisha.”

“However, this camp and the last, we have players from almost 12 to 13 states. Now four states have full-time leagues – Manipur, Odisha, Haryana and Goa (The GFA has proposed a women’s league for the state),” says a visibly happier Rocky.

Their last outing, the 2018 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Pyongyang, North Korea, held in April did not go according to expectations with the team losing three of its matches to North Korea (8-0), South Korea (10-0) and Uzbekistan (7-1) before ending with a 2-0 win over Hong Kong.

“It would have been better if the Hong Kong match was first up. That win would have given the girls so much confidence. As it turns out, they faced the strongest teams first and committed some silly errors which led to mistakes. They were of course better than us but we can take a lot of positives from the way we played,” says Rocky.

A member of that defence, the centre-back Loitongbam Ashalata Devi, who at 24, is a senior member of the team with 34 caps says it is easier having a woman in charge, “We can speak to her freely about all our problems, and she is easily approachable.”

Rocky says that the retirement of former teammate Bembem in 2016, has left a void in experience but insists that it is nothing that her team can’t cope with, “After Bembem, we have the captain Bala (Devi) and senior striker Sasmita Malik (reigning AIFF Women’s Player of the Year) who have stepped up to guide the younger players. Her position has been filled up and the team has to take charge by themselves.”

The women’s coach feels that at the end of the day, she wants more respect for her team, “These are international footballers, playing for the Indian national team, ranked 60th in the world. I want them to be treated like internationals.”