The Indian Arrows played their most convincing match of the season against Shillong Lajong. That 3-0 win is remembered for a multitude of reasons; it was the Arrows’ best performance of the season. Nongdamba Naorem scored a peach of a goal at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi, beating five Lajong defenders in what became one of the highlights of the I-League season.

The man at the helm that day wasn’t Luis Norton de Matos, who stepped down as head coach of the Indian Arrows on Wednesday, citing “personal reasons”. It was his assistant Floyd Pinto who will take interim charge of the Arrows as they travel to Spain for the five-team Mini Mundial tournament.

It was just the latest in a series of high-profile appointments for the 33-year-old, who has already racked up 13 years of coaching experience, serving as the head coach of the India Under-17s, U-18s, U-19s and now the Arrows.

(Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)
(Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)

From engineering to football

Yet, all this seemed like a distant dream when Pinto was a budding engineer studying Information Technology at the Don Bosco College in Mumbai. A job at ICICI Securities followed but the footballing bug had caught hold of Floyd. Father Adolf Furtado was the principal at Don Bosco School in Matunga, two of whose students were Abhishek Yadav, present director of the Indian national teams, and Joshua Lewis, who would go on to become CEO of Kenkre FC.

Pinto, a Liverpool and a Steven Gerrard fan, was recommended for a coaching position at Kenkre FC by Furtado. “I started as an academy coach but I was thrown in at the deep end after 15 months. I started with the Under-17 team and worked my way up at Kenkre,” says Pinto, who held a number of roles at the Mumbai club juggling the youth teams, U-17, U-19 and the senior team, once in the second division.

While at the club, Floyd pursued his coaching licenses aggressively, applying for sports management in the UK but opting out due to it being “a financial burden on my parents”. FA levels 1 and 2 were completed in the UK, as was an international license.

Scott O’Donnell and Rob Baan had re-jigged the licensing structure and Floyd had pursued his B license course in Mizoram. Six months later, Floyd applied to the A license course in Goa along with the likes of Bibiano Fernandes, Indian U-16 coach, Gift Raikhan, now coach of Aizawl and Caetano Pinho, one-time ONGC coach. Impressed by the techniques displayed during the course, O’Donnell offered the young Kenkre coach a job at the AIFF Elite Academy.

AIFF Elite Academy stint

Pinto with his staff after winning the U-18 I-League 2016/17 (Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)
Pinto with his staff after winning the U-18 I-League 2016/17 (Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)

The AIFF Elite Academy Under-18 team won the U-18 I-League thrice, two of those triumphs with Floyd at the helm. The batch involving Jerry Lalrinzuala, Anirudh Thapa was akin to “playing with a Playstation,” Floyd said. There is no doubting the talent of the batch which lifted the Subroto Cup title in the presence of Pele, both Lalrinzuala and Thapa becoming national team regulars.

Also given charge of the U-19 team, which also contained a number of stand-bys for the U-17 World Cup team, Floyd became assistant to de Matos at the revamped Indian Arrows. The next step for the boys, says Pinto, is to aim for the AFC Under-19 qualifiers, a difficult task considering that India have failed to do qualify for the main tournament for the last six editions.

“It’s not impossible. Bibiano and his team have shown that they can be competitive. With an influx of players from his team after the AFC U-16 Championships and our 2001 boys (Amarjit Kiyam, Ninthoi etc), we can compete with the best,” he says.

With Arrows players born in 2000 set to be released, Pinto is not overtly worried but warns against expecting immediate change, “We have minor tweaks in the system, but in Spain, we will play the way that de Matos had them play. We could have done much better last season, the schedule of the I-League was heavy on us, but we finished our games and there was 20 days. If the games were better spaced out, our boys would have done better. The upcoming I-League is a much better indicator.”

Arrows a resilient bunch

Pinto with Jitendra Singh post an Arrows match. (Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)
Pinto with Jitendra Singh post an Arrows match. (Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)

Pinto says the Arrows are a resilient bunch. “This group, their mental strength is something else. If they lose 3-0, they will go at the next team with the same aggression. Before the match, they told me they wanted to play a higher press. I told them to go for it and also told them Lajong would play a 4-4-2. They believed in the system and it worked,” he recalled.

Like all coaches not from a playing background, he is a student of the game, “If I’m not sure of what I want to do, then I will never be able to tell my players. I look at the other coaches and think, what can I use that will be useful to my boys? I love tactics, formations, the build-ups, pressing. I don’t have the players that Pep Guardiola does, but I can see how they lure opponents in, how they build from the back.”

His philosophy, Pinto said, is a combination of two existing ones: “At AIFF, they had a compulsion that teams will have to build from the back under Rob Baan and Wim Koevermans. We were also told that you will have to teach the game beautifully, make the player as comfortable as he is on the ball. Trying to build from the back, high pressing, shaped my philosophy. Dominate possession, tactically out-wit, utilise different shapes in attack and defence, all this is part of it.”

Floyd with Kenkre days. (Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)
Floyd with Kenkre days. (Image courtesy: Floyd Pinto/FB)

A large chunk of his coaching places the emphasis on the players: “I know players like to play with more freedom, they have a roadmap ready for them but you don’t want to spoon-feed players. You then become liable to the losses of the players which they may face later on in their career.”

The same freedom is afforded to his staff, most of whom have been with him since the start of his days at the AIFF Elite Academy. “I know what I want from my sports scientist. He knows his job better than I do. I want the best out of Mahesh [Gawli], to teach them defending from what he has got out of his playing days.”

Video analysis also plays a huge part in the Pinto philosophy, but the Arrows gaffer leaves it to his players to dissect it. “We cut videos from training the same day and show them. I want them to tell me after watching the video that they could have passed or shot in a different way. I also want to make the training more qualitative. You ran and you became tired, yes. Why are you running, why do you want to pass the ball? These are questions that should pop in their heads.”

The aim is to also produce more global players, who are in touch with the modern trends, so that they shouldn’t feel out of place with a foreign coach in the ISL, Pinto said. But does his calm off-field demeanour reflect itself on the pitch?

“I get agitated when I want to. You can’t keep shouting at all the players. You have to know which ones get fired up when shouted at and which ones need an arm around the shoulder,” Floyd said about his man-management.

Starting in Spain, the young coach of the Indian Arrows will have assume charge, even if for a brief while. If his track record is anything to go by, it should be a beneficial stint both for master and pupils.