Charismatic, bold and passionate, Eelco Schattorie wears his heart on his sleeve. From non-cliched press conference quotes to giving it back to trolls on social media, the 48-year-old isn’t someone who minces words. Not even when he has to praise or criticise his players in public.
Schattorie is no stranger to Indian football and is among the few football managers to have worked both in the I-League and Indian Super League (now India’s top tier division). He is a man who relishes challenges. Right from the now-defunct Prayag United to Kerala Blasters, the Dutch tactician has a history of taking over under-performing clubs.
After guiding NorthEast United to the ISL playoffs for the first time in history during the 2018-‘19 season on a shoestring budget, his stint with Kerala Blasters has suffered a bumpy start. Coping with multiple injury woes, the club is currently languishing second from bottom in the league but has impressed the fans with their style of play.
In all, Schattorie has managed four clubs in India and despite just one trophy during his tenure here, he has garnered plaudits for successfully implementing an attack-minded and possession-based philosophy.
Also honored for nurturing young players, making the most of limited resources and his man-management skills, the former East Bengal gaffer has established himself as a cult figure among Indian football faithfuls.
In a free-wheeling chat with Scroll.in, Schattorie spoke about his journey in India, his philosophy and more.
How would you define your journey in India? Has it panned out the way you wanted it to?
I spent one-and-a-half seasons at Prayag United. Unfortunately, the money dried up and I had to leave. My second stint at East Bengal, I managed the last part of the season for 2-3 months. Then I came back two years ago as an assistant with Avram Grant at NorthEast United. He was supposed to take over but he didn’t, so the club asked me to. This season, I’m back in India [with Kerala Blasters] where my personal goal is to reach higher. But as long as I am here, I want to do all that I can to develop Indian football.
I am grateful to have a job as a coach. This is my biggest passion and it doesn’t matter if it is India or Holland. I am always happy to work with young talents and bring them to another level.
How big of a challenge was it to manage East Bengal since there was a lot of scrutiny and expectations?
I arrived at East Bengal at the wrong moment because when I did, the president was in jail. Overall, the communication with the management was not great and it lasted only for a short period.
The beginning was difficult and after that we had a good patch of 6-7 games where we were unbeaten. But at the end, a lot of our players suffered injuries as they came back from ISL. We still finished third. Overall, it was the wrong moment to go to East Bengal. But to work for any club that has a huge fan base is always a privilege.
How much difference you have noticed in the level and competitiveness between the ISL and I-League?
When it comes to the Indian players, both are pretty equal. Not all fields in the I-League are that great compared to the ISL which enhances the level of football. The Indian players that play in the ISL grow faster because they have bigger resistance. Both leagues are good but ISL has more quality because of the level of foreigners.
You’ve spoken about how I-League is a good platform for the development of young players. Do you still think many are undermining the importance of the I-League?
I have a huge problem with preferences. I have Samuel [Lalmuanpuia] who comes from Lajong. Great, beautiful player but physically still not really fit to compete in the ISL. And to bring him, I want him to start more games, but I can’t play him for just the sake of giving him a chance.
So the I-League is a perfect platform for young players. Same for the ISL, if they have a reserve team and if they play a decent league. A player needs a platform to perform but the only way to develop is by playing games. Even now, too many players stay on the bench and unfortunately you can’t give them development besides training.
What can be done to improve the standard of the ISL?
To start with, the referees. They are really terrible. I don’t want to speak negative about anybody but you call a spade a spade in my philosophy. If I’m doing a s****y job, I will also be criticised. Referees are not doing a good job.
To bring up that level, a very simple concept I would start with is the decision making. If a mistake or a decision is made by the referee, at all times, give a chance to communicate with the players. At this moment, that is waved away and people/players/coaches only get more angry.
If you make a mistake while driving and the guy from the other car starts shouting at you, he will right away cool down once you say sorry. If a referee says, ‘What you want me to do? I saw it like that.’ I will calm down because it is his decision. But the personalities not wanting to communicate anytime, only f**** up more people and makes them angry. That is why you see very animated reactions. Including me, I’m very vulnerable to that. You see stupid decisions drawing yellow cards. There are so many instances out there.
On the football itself, I think it would be better to have less foreigners. Maximum four maybe five.
Do you think that is hampering the growth of Indian footballers?
Hampering happens in the amount of games. We only play 18 games in a season, it has been discussed many times. You should have a minimum of 35-40 games. That is how you grow. You can go to school, but if you don’t give exams [its nothing]. Football games are exams, so if you have only 18 in a season, it isn’t sufficient.
Could a merger of the ISL and I-League have solved the problem?
To be honest, I don’t know. I think it is good to have a first and second division as long as they have decent facilities. But for me, I don’t feel it is necessary to merge the two.
You managed many clubs in the gulf before coming here. What’s one thing India learn from them?
When I came to the gulf, it was the initial stages of foreign coaches coming in. Even for youth levels, they had coaches from outside. The development starts from the bottom, with youth. Kerala has someone, even Goa but all other states also need it. That’s where it starts.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have faced upon coming to India?
The football culture itself, the [fans] understanding of what it means to be a professional footballer. And also, to deliver in performances. I would love to educate them a little bit about football. The realisation of how a football game is played. For instance, they demand to see young talents play but it takes time.
You can’t just build a club from day one, bring in new players and expect progress right away. I gave the analogy about the Taj Mahal, it wasn’t built in a day. Anything that takes time and you build, will also last long. And if you want to do something quick, it won’t work.
A lot of things, what’s difficult for me is the perception...as long as it looks good. I call it the Bollywood factor. It has to look good and great but for the long-term development, that’s sometimes difficult to cope for me. But it is part of the game.
What is football like in your head?
Most people always think in systems like 4-3-3, 4-2-2. I have a preference of a certain system where it is all about using the quality of the players and fitting them together. You can have eleven really good players but it doesn’t mean they fit together.
My style of football is high-tempo and dominating. Going forward, on the ball and even defensively. Pressing high and trying to score. Every team wants to score but I like to dominate and be in control. If I have to sit back and the other team is dominating me, I get crazy. I can’t handle that.
Many ISL teams have been in favour of possession-based style, which has also been implemented in the national set-up. Do you believe this is the way forward?
The way I see it, is you need to have a proactive approach. It doesn’t meant that if you’re playing possession-based football [it is going to work well]. You need technically good, smart players in each position. You can also play a more attacking style which is more direct going forward. But I don’t like the English style where there are just long balls and you run forward. There is also a way of playing quick with counter-attacks, which is beautiful. As long as it is proactive going forward, try to dominate.
Can India succeed with this style?
The style is not a problem. As I said before, it is about playing more games. Developing the maturity. Any job you do, if you start, there are things that make you stand out from someone else. That only comes from developing stability.