When you have a natural affinity for Football, all you want to do is be associated with the game, either as a player in a professional league or as someone nurturing, mentoring and training the next generation of players with your experience, knowledge and dedication. 

Deep Moorjani, our next pathbreaker, Youth Team Head Coach, Kenkre Football Club, scouts for top talent in order to train teams that can break into and compete at the top tournaments.

Deep talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about the launch of his football career with the opportunity to play for  CasteloForte club in Lisbon, Portugal on a year long contract where he played in Lisbon district league and the Lisbon Cup.

For students, a career in sports never ends ! You transition to different roles, taking on increasing responsibility in shaping India’s talent at the grassroot level.

Deep, tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in Mumbai in a humble middle class household. Since my parents worked full time, my older brother would usually take care of me. I was always a very sporty kid, just like my brother. My parents always encouraged us to play outdoor sports and be as physically active as possible. They enrolled me in a cricket academy and martial arts school when I was a 5 year old.  

Honestly, until the age of 10 I thought I wanted to become a cricketer but then my brother started playing football and I followed. My school only started football in the fifth grade so I only played football in my colony until then. Some might say I was a natural as when my school PE teacher (we didn’t have a football coach) saw me play with my classmates for the first time, he told me to ask my parents to send me for football practice. I declined thinking it’s a paid thing and he said it’s sponsored by school and wanted to make me the captain of the school team. I captained the school team for 5 years until I went to college. In my last couple of years at school I think I knew that I wanted to become a footballer. It was when I started watching the Premier League that i realised that it was a career option and tried to imitate players like Steven Gerrard, Theirry Henry, Fernando Torres, etc on the pitch. 

In my last year of school, we came 2nd in the Mumbai District School football tournament because of which I made it to NM college. To be fair, I was always good at academics and never once failed a subject. But football helped me to get into the best college in town for commerce at the time. And if it wasn’t for that, my story might have been completely different. The NM college team football coach also happened to be the coach of the then I-League club Air India. It was one of the few Indian clubs I had heard of along with Mahindra and Mumbai FC. He recognised my talent and asked me to join the Air India U20 team when I was 17. That was the first time I made it to a professional setup. In my 3rd year at the club, I captained the team in the U20 I-League and the district league. After Air India, I went on to play for several clubs in the MDFA Elite division and I-League 2nd division including the likes of PIFA, Central Bank of India and GMSC. In 2016, at the age of 23, I got scouted by a Portuguese coach for a 45 day long trial for a club called Castelo Forte in Lisbon, Portugal. It was by far the best opportunity of my life. Fortunately, I got selected and signed a year long contract with the club. We played in the Lisbon district league and the Lisbon Cup. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my graduation in mass media from R.D. National College. Being a commerce student, I was hoping to do my graduation in management studies. I had also applied for some mass media courses as I always found it interesting, and had a lot of friends who were studying it. After giving it some more thought, I chose to opt for mass media. It would let me give more time to football as it was more of a practical course and I think it was one of the best decisions of my life.

What made you choose football as a career?

I think it was the same reason as everyone else who plays this game. I loved playing football, watching football and talking about it. I was always very competitive and I always looked for a chance to play with and against the best teams and players. 

How did you make a transition to football coaching?

After I got back from Portugal for the off-season break, I got a knee injury which would keep me out of the pitch for another 3 months; My third long-term injury in the last 12 months. That’s when I took a call to start with my coaching certifications. 

I always thought I’d be a good coach as I’d played under so many coaches in India and Europe throughout my career, but I also knew it was a whole new ballgame. I had already spoken to a former teammate and a close friend, who was a head coach at a small setup in Mumbai. So I started coaching the very next day after completing my AIFF ‘D’ Licence Course. 

After a couple of months, I moved to Western Sports Foundation(WSF) as I was offered a better role. Since, I was doing just 2 sessions a week with the u10s and I had a lot of time on my hands. I knew there was a lot to learn as a coach so I started doing my research to find the best academy in Mumbai. I personally went and watched sessions at some of the well known academies and I was really impressed by the Barca Academy. I had read about them and about their philosophy and structure and their highly qualified Technical Director who was from Barcelona himself. So I spoke to one of the coaches there who was, guess what, someone I had played with before. Small world right? He asked me to mail them my CV and they’d call me for a trial if they liked it. And that’s what they did the next week, a trial session in front of the technical director, and the centre head. Fortunately, it went well and they asked me to join next week. I chose to work part time so I could continue working at Western Sports Foundation. I couldn’t wait to start and learn from the top coaches there, especially the technical director Albert Moratalla. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Albert and his team, I don’t think I would be half the coach I am today. I was taking 14 sessions in a week: 12 sessions at the Barca Academy and 2 at WSF.  

A year later, after learning as much as I could and gaining enough experience., I applied for my AIFF C Licence Course. It was an exhausting 13-day long course at Cooperage, Mumbai. But I knew I was well prepared after the things I had learnt in the last year and the work I had put in. Most coaches were a little nervous during the practical exams, some a bit more than the others. I was too, but once it began, things just went as smoothly as I could have hoped for. Taking so many sessions every week made it feel like a second habit now. I was pretty confident in my own abilities.

After a couple of months, I received a mail saying I’ve passed and was the only coach from the batch to have been fast-tracked by the instructor. It meant I could appear for the AFC B licence in a year, instead of 2 years which is usually the case. 

Tell us about the challenges you faced as a coach and how did you address them?

The biggest challenge for me as a coach was public speaking. I was never someone who spoke a lot. In college, we had a lot of presentations in front of the class or sometimes in front of a full auditorium. I was one of those people who could not wait for it to end and get off stage. I’d usually go really fast and eat up a couple of sentences or words just to get it done. 

Obviously, in front of 10-12 year old kids it didn’t matter much, but because of my stellar trial performance, the U18 group was one of groups I was assigned to at the Barca Academy. That was a real test for me. That’s what I would call getting out of your comfort zone. But, as you may have heard, if it’s something that you know about and are passionate about, talking about it becomes much easier. I even read some books to help with my communication as it’s one of the most important qualities for a coach. So with time, I got better at it and overcame that fear by just putting myself out there everyday which took a lot of courage.

Tell us where do you coach now?

I moved to Kenkre Football Academy after passing my C licence course as I wanted to work at a professional club that participates in the top tournaments. Kenkre Football Academy is one of the top 10 academies in India (2019 AIFF Rankings) and I joined as the U18 I-League team head coach and the U12 team head coach. 

I also work as a personal football coach and work with players in a 1-to-1 or a small group setting. I work on the specific technical and physical aspects of a player that need to be worked upon, in addition to team training, in order to become a professional.

What are the challenges you face/problems you solve at your current job?

At a professional setup, the first challenge is to scout and choose top talents and build a team good enough to compete at the topmost level. Sometimes during trials, you have to choose between 2 kids and it’s difficult for a kid to take that rejection and for us to make them understand it’s not the end of the world because it does feel like that to some.

I think the biggest challenge for me at youth level is to make people understand the importance of player development over winning. Obviously, there needs to be a balance but individual development should be the topmost priority. And that will only happen if you give all your players more or less equal game time. You have to trust them to make their own decisions, take risks and learn from their mistakes, and not criticise them every time they do. That takes a lot of patience especially if the other teams are doing everything they can to win as that’s their priority. I like to measure my success as a coach by the amount of progress my players make and how many make it to top teams and not just the trophies and the team wins.

Helping kids manage their academics alongside the game is another challenge as the academic institutions don’t help them enough or give them the necessary concessions. 

What skills are needed to become a football coach? How did you acquire the skills?

First and foremost, you need to have a good understanding of the game, a good amount of coaching experience and a coaching license. One needs to have at least a C License to be registered as a head coach of a junior I-League team.

Another extremely important requisite is good communication skills. It is imperative that as a coach, you are able to effectively communicate your vision of the game to the players for them to execute it, in practise as well as in a game. Also, interpersonal skills go a long way in building a healthy relationship with your players and it is important for the players to be able to trust you as a coach. 

While there are specialists for the same, a coach must also have basic knowledge of physiology and nutrition to bring out the best in his players.

What’s a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me starts with a good workout as my team’s practice session is usually in the evening after their school/college. I believe keeping myself fit is a part of the job at least at this age. Then I prepare for the evening’s session, go through the session plan, be as thorough as I possibly can. I try to plan for the upcoming week over the weekend, which includes the number of sessions and the volume as well. After lunch, I head to the field for practice. Once I get back, I spend some time with family or friends. I like to read or watch something at night before I go to sleep.

What is it you love about coaching?

As a coach you can have such a big influence on a person’s life, help them get better at something they love and become a better version of themselves, and when you see that happening it’s the most satisfying feeling. I love the fact that most of the time it doesn’t feel like work as I love what I do.

How do you think your work is helping youngsters on personal level?

I strongly believe in inculcating good values in my players and it’s a very important aspect of football, given it’s a team sport. Having empathy, taking responsibility, encouraging your teammates, picking them up when they’re down and respecting your opponents is something the world needs more of. Also, I’m trying my absolute best to share as much knowledge and experience with the players, hoping some of them will some day go on to represent the national team and make the country proud.

Share some moments that are very close to you!

When I was put in charge of the U14 team at Western Sports Foundation, a team that would be participating in the MDFA YPL (the district level league) for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know the players that well yet as we were only training twice a week with a small group. The owners told me, “Just make sure they don’t lose badly”. 

We lost the first group stage game by a 6-goal margin. We hadn’t had the chance to play any practice games or even play a full sided game on a big field before that. Fortunately, we had 4 weeks before the next fixture and that game gave me an idea about the things that needed to be worked on. But we couldn’t afford to lose any more games if we were to qualify for the knockout stage. 

We won the next 3 games and conceded just 1 goal and qualified for the knockout stages. We reached the top 16 only to be knocked out by Reliance Foundation which is arguably the best academy in the country. 2 players from our team got scouted for a youth I-League team and I couldn’t have been prouder as I believe youth football is all about player development. Little did I know that I’d be joining them the next season too. That season put Western Sports Foundation on the map of Mumbai Football.

At the end of the season, I was made the technical director and asked to lead a team of coaches at the academy.

Your advice to young players based on your experience?

For players, work hard for sure, but more importantly work smart. Take help from experts and professionals whenever needed instead of trying to do everything by yourself. 

As for budding coaches, try to gain as much knowledge as possible, find a mentor who can show you the ropes and guide you along the way. 

Share your future plans with us?

I plan to continue learning as much as possible and complete my coaching badges soon. My brother always asks me to dream big and I usually take his advice. So for now, I want to become one of the best coaches in the country and make a lasting impact to Indian Football.