'Houghton the best option'

Flamboyant: N P Pradeep has stood out in the Indian midfield with some  excellent performances over the last few years.

Nedumparambil Pappachan Pradeep is your quintessential Kerala footballer -- blessed with bags of ability and a vision for the game that cannot be taught. Following in the footsteps of IM Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri into the Indian team, Pradeep has become a vital cog in the national team’s wheel.

If there was any doubt about his ability to run the game from midfield, one only had to watch the midfielder’s performance against Bangalore’s Hindustan Aeronautics Sports Club at the Sree Kanteerava stadium last Tuesday. The man from Idukki district put in an excellent performance and stood head and shoulders above the other 21 players on the field that day. Pradeep took some time off to chat with Deccan Herald. Excerpts.

We’ve had a tough Asian Cup. What is our standing now, after that tournament?

That is hard to answer, but I think we have a long long way to go before we can consider ourselves a footballing nation. Our infrastructure, training methods, all of it needs to improve if we are to challenge the bigger teams. Playing the Asian Cup was a tremendous eye-opener for us. To compete against teams that have played in the World Cup and against players that are regulars in big European Leagues, it showed where we are in footballing terms.

Where is that?

We have a lot to improve obviously. But we’re not that far behind. Even though we were beaten in all our three matches, I think we showed that we are definitely capable of competing. What we lack is experience. We just need to play regularly against such strong teams. I think that is the way forward for us. I’m convinced that the Asian Cup experience will be a huge step forward, especially for the youngsters. It is something they can aspire for.

Coming to the topic of youngsters. Do you think there are enough youngsters coming up in India?

Personally I don’t think so. There aren’t enough quality youngsters coming through. It is a problem with our structure, our infrastructure, our basic mindset towards football. Only if we improve these things throughout the country will we be able to compete at the higher level. We need to encourage our kids to play football right from the schools. The more kids that play football the better.

Do you think that is what (India coach Bob) Houghton was alluding to when he mentioned the state of Indian football?

I’m not in a position to make a comment on that. All I can say is that Houghton has done wonders for our national team. It is because of his coaching and leadership that we have won a few trophies over the past three-four years and I don’t think that we would have been competing in the Asian Cup if it was not for him.

So is Houghton our best bet going forward?

I would love if he stayed. I think he is the best option right now for India. I hope that a decision that will lead to him staying on as the football coach of India will be made. Because that, to me personally, is the best possible thing.

What do you have to say about Mahindra United disbanding?

I played there for four years. We had so much success there as a team. I still remember when they told us that the club was to be disbanded; we were left a little shell-shocked. There were still five or six games left to go in the season. But as far as we were concerned our season ended there. The day they told us, the season for us, was over. If you recall, we just never really got out of that shock. We ended up either losing or drawing the rest of the games in the I-League. That is how much the news affected the whole morale of the team. It is a pity, because Mumbai needed such a team. It is not just a loss for us, but a loss for the City as well.
What one needs to understand is that, disbanding a team does not just hurt the first team players. We had a really good youth team. The under-19 team was doing really well. We also had an under-16 team as well as an under-13 team. All the teams were affected by the decision. But unfortunately when a big company owns the club, you cannot do anything when such a decision is taken. We all just have to move on.

You moved on by going back to playing in your home State, for Viva         Kerala...

Yeah, signing for them was a really easy decision for me. It feels really nice to be back home. We have a good team here, that I think is slowly falling into place. We’ve been playing well, but the results just haven’t been there. But I’m sure that will come. It’s only a matter of time.

What do you have to say about the current state of Kerala football?

Kerala football has come down quite a bit over the last decade. But I can see that slowly there are changes being made and hopefully with the right infrastructure, it can come up. Because according to me for Indian football to grow, the growth of football in Kerala is an absolute must.

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