Philippe de Ridder Interview: Part 2

Philippe de Ridder is a well-known name in Indian football circuit as he has been managing clubs, becoming Technical Director and playing (yes, precisely in this order) all around the country. Debojyoti Chakraborty of Goalden Times got a chance to take sneak peek into the inner world of this Belgian who has made India his second home. Here is the second part.

Being an ardent fan of East Bengal, one of the most famous clubs in India, I am no stranger to Philippe de Ridder. In fact, I had come across him on couple of occasions at airports but could not manage to engage him in conversation. Later when I finally got an opportunity to interact with him I very hesitantly asked him for a chit-chat session. And thankfully, the generous man did not disappoint. We already have covered the first session of this long interview here, the final part follows below.
De Ridder left East Bengal after a successful stint but somehow the most coveted trophy of them all – the National League (known as I-League now, the premier league in India) eluded him. But he was far from done. He came back in 2009 to take up the mantles at his beloved club once again, before exploring other challenges elsewhere. And there was his last hurrah!!!
DC : How did you suddenly play in the Mizo Premier league? By your own admission, how did you perform?
PdR : I was passing through Mizoram in late 2013 to help a girl I fell in love with to open a shoe store. In the morning I wanted to do a little jogging and see if I could play a little bit of football to keep myself fit. I went to the nearby Aizawl football ground, started to run around the field. There were two teams training on the field. After a while, I asked if I could borrow a ball, as I didn’t have one. One team said NO, but the other team was gracious enough. I started to play alone with the ball, juggling and making some moves when the coach approached me to ask me if I played football. I started to laugh. I showed a couple of moves and played a little with his players. Benjamin, a very open minded coach he was, asked me after the session if I wanted to play as a player in the team!!!
First I thought he was joking but then he invited me in the evening for a meeting with the president of the club. I took a couple of days to think about it – I was 49 but my bad leg was getting better than ever, the strongest I had felt in quite some time. And I felt like taking the challenge.
The surprises did not end there as I later came to know that they were bottom of the Mizoram Premier league (laughs out loud). But quickly they asked me to take charge of the team and we did great. It is a fantastic success story on how to save a club from ending bottom of the table.
I performed well except I didn’t play as much as I would have liked. Some players were doing well in my favorite position, so why take them out? (smiles).
The season after was a lot different though – the team didn’t get the sponsors and we did not have the players they promised me at the end of the season. After a tournament played outside Mizoram, where I played and scored a beautiful goal at the age of 50, I decided to leave the team. It was good timing as the league had not started and it would give time to my successor – my former assistant-coach in United Sikkim. But he was not available at the time. Then I called a football coach I thought could help the club, but didn’t know him that well personally. He was not at all what I had expected but the club decided, more for financial reasons than others to try him. The club and I were not going anymore in the same direction. We separated on mutual agreement as I had very good relations with the president. I didn’t agree with the football direction he chose but he was a good human being – and that is what counts at the end of it all. He is still trying his best in the Mizoram football context.
In my last match as a player but I got injured after only five minutes. I couldn’t replace myself as we did not have any replacement. So I had to play 20 minutes injured, not able to run properly but somehow I stayed on the pitch. That’s the only match I should say I did not perform well – in all other matches I think I did quite well.
The funny part is that some media conspired to make a very different story out of it.
I was already in negotiation With FC Adeli, a second division academy club in Batumi, Georgia, that wanted to become more professional. So I went back to Belgium and England seeing my kids and then flew to my new job.
DC : You have travelled a fair bit – why did you decide to join as Sporting director of a club in India?
PdR : I love India as a country. There is a lot to do to improve football here. I would like to contribute in my own small way by providing football education on the pitch to improve the quality of the players.
DC : You seem to know 7-8 languages. How good are you with Indian languages, especially Bengali?
PdR : I learned the basic words to coach and direct the players in Bengali. But (sheepishly) Mizo is very difficult for me. Bengali is a lot easier. But I never had any communication problems with players anywhere, be it in Bengal, China or Georgia. Football has its own language.

Bengali is a lot easier. But I never had any communication problems with players anywhere, be it in Bengal, China or Georgia. Football has its own language.

DC : You are often criticized that you have failed at the last hurdle. It is seen that you have done well when the wheels are coming off but somehow the silverwares have eluded you. Even the Fed cup win with East Bengal in 2009-10 during your second innings with the club was won as an underdog. What is your response to that?
PdR : I don’t quite understand the question. If you are talking trophies, I think in all objectivity we did quite well for the 3-4 seasons that I was in India – Super Cup, Federation Cup (India’s premier cup competition), winner of I-league 2, and saving a club from relegation.
We finished in second position with East Bengal in the I-League about a decade ago. And no other coach has been able to better that till date. Trevor Morgan, another top level coach, did equally good but not better even after he got the opportunity to build his team for three years and had the financial backing (smiles proudly). May I also politely add that I achieved all these trophies with teams not performing well at the time I took charge? Not even being able to build a team for the next championship, as we do in Europe!!! I think I did quite well.
I would like to put forward an interesting question to all my critics – how do you rate finishing second with a bad team compared to finishing second with the best of players? Is winning a Federation Cup with a broken team same as winning it with top players?
De Ridder is a thinker and he keeps himself updated with the latest happenings in the field of football – be it in the Indian landscape or globally. So I had to ask him of his opinion about the latest madness in Indian football and the use of modern technology in football.
DC : There is a school of thought that claims that ISL has created a fan base for itself only and not done anything for Indian football. These claims are supported by near empty stadiums during the I-league matches. Do you see the ISL replacing or merging with the I League?
PdR : Only the future will tell us that but maybe they should merge provided the I-league clubs can adjust themselves to ISL standard and not regress in the other direction. What I saw is that the ISL is taking football where it belongs on the marketing, fan base and entertainment level. Not a single I-league club can even come close to what they did and I must say that it did an exceptional job for football entertainment in India.
DC : Do you think that ISL will make a real difference to the game in India or will it end up being a passing fad?
PdR : It all depends where ISL wants to go but frankly, India can hardly do any worse on FIFA ranking than where it finds itself today (193 currently). Is it so difficult to do a bit better in international arena given the talent and enthusiasm the country possesses? I don’t think so. If you want India going up in FIFA rankings, a complete overhaul is required where right people are appointed to appreciate quality football and value players accordingly. I think this is one of the biggest challenges for Indian football – doesn’t matter if it is ISL or I-league, the problem remains the same.
I have seen some Indian players valued at INR* 300,000 who should actually be worth not more than INR 20,000 and vice versa. Same for the foreigners – I have seen some of them getting paid INR 500,000 whereas their game justifies only one-tenth of that. In Europe, they would not have the chance to play for even half of that.
* INR = Indian Rupee (1 $ ~ 62 INR)
ISL has a lot of work to do – increasing the skill level of the players; improving their power, speed; enhancing their game reading skills and instilling a professional attitude. But the biggest challenge ISL would face is to put in place a proper system for evaluating the actual value of an Indian player in the international market. If they can achieve that, I can assure you that moving significantly up the ladder in FIFA ranking won’t be far away.
DC : What would be your dream management job?
PdR : Find a club that matches my football vision and has the finances and willingness to become a real powerhouse in football. It is like a dream pairing, a match made in heaven – like Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, Sir Alex Fergusson and Manchester United (sighs).
DC : Is football coaching more about tactics or man management/motivation? For ex – do you ever use the hairdryer in the dressing room when things are not going well?
PdR : It’s about getting the maximum possible out of what you have at your disposal. Every manager will have his own way, no one technique can be hailed as the perfect one. The one that delivers the results is the best one for that team.
DC : Can you please share some of your funny experiences as a football manager?
PdR : Yes, definitely. The technical director of All India Football Federation (AIFF) refused my application for A-license course as they gave priority to Indian coaches. Fair enough. But the striking thing was he passed all other foreign coaches in I-league including himself to pro license!!!
I have a UEFA B license and had won several trophies in India, so I was surprised that how I was still not qualified for it. They were ready to give A licenses and pro licenses to coaches who had never coached in I-league, with lesser experience and trophies but not a person like myself. No wonder, India is not going in the right direction!!!!
I had managed to get a trial for Sandesh Jinghan, the central defender, in an A-team in China when I was the head coach of United Sikkim. And he was called for his first national team training that very day. I had a big argument with Wim Koevermans, the national coach of India at the time regarding this issue. Later I found out that he was the one delivering the licenses also!!! No wonder, I was screwed.

I have a UEFA B license and had won several trophies in India, so I was surprised that how I was still not qualified for it. They were ready to give A licenses and pro licenses to coaches who had never coached in I-league, with lesser experience and trophies but not a person like myself. No wonder, India is not going in the right direction!!!!

DC : What are your thoughts about using video referral in football?
PdR : It is good to be used for the goal line decisions. But it will not be wise to extend its use to pinpoint the errors in a running match. Not only it will hold up proceedings and slow down the game, it is also unfair to criticize match officials for decisions they have to make in split second in such a fast moving game.
DC : Can you enlighten us about your CFT360 methodology?
PdR : Creative Football Training 360 (CFT360)is a method that focuses exclusively on your individual skills, power, speed and goal-scoring attitude. It has helped a lot of players – but not all – to be more confident during live game situations, and therefore has made their team stronger. Individual development gets priority in this method rather than team development. It is a simple thought: if you are better individually you will help your team be better collectively. Normal players became good players, good players became very good players, and some players became International players after following it.
I was feeling a bit guilty for eating up so much time from this man’s busy schedule. Still I could not hold myself back from asking a few questions about some of his light moments and his philanthropic activities.
DC : What is the funniest incident you have been part of as manager?
PdR : Believe it or not, it was the first year when I coached East Bengal. I had a two year contract, took the team to second position in the league starting midway from a disastrous situation, won the super cup, won the derby against Mohun Bagan 3-1 with young players, brought Bhaichung Bhutia back to his top level. And a couple of officials told me that I did not do a good job (smiles). That was the funniest incident I remember.
DC : You are quite deeply involved in social service through football – in one sentence, what do you want to say to all the aspiring footballers?
PdR : If football is your dream, believe in yourself, work hard, work hard and work hard until you have achieved your dream. Not all of you will become pro players or internationals but if you can make a living from your passion, you can hold your head high. Be happy that you have succeeded because not many can claim that. Keep that in mind.
DC : Do you think Indian clubs are doing enough for developing young talent?
PdR : No, not at all.
DC : What does India lack more, good footballers or good coaches/managers?
PdR : Good people that can recognize good players, good coaches, good scouts. Definitely there are some good people around, but unfortunately not many.

And finally it was time to wrap up!
DC : You are very much into music and arts. Do you draw inspiration for football from there or look for solace away from the stressfulness of your job?
PdR : I need design, cartoon, illustrations, music as much as football in my life. I worked professionally as graphic designer and then as the Art Director for MCE in Brussels, Met life insurance, JP Morgan and AVI (Disney account) in New York, Imedia Marketing (AT&T account), Bowhaus in New Jersey, Telmark in London, LEON magazine in Tenerife, the Bengal post in Kolkata.
I keep switching my orientation; I can work a year long in design sometimes, then go back to football. Music is more of a passion, I like to jam or do a concert once in a while. I also write songs.
DC : You must be a fan of the famous Hergé Museum. What would you have expected from the legendary Hergé (very well known for the political and social satire in his writing) if he were to cover World Cup 2014?
PdR : He might have written a story that takes a German player winning the world cup, and then donating his prize money to build new homes for the poor people who had to leave their homes to build the stadium he scored the goal in. Captain Haddock being a fervent Belgium fan would have sworn a mouthful when they got out of the game. Snowy would have fallen in love with a Brazilian dog beauty. Bianca Castafiore could have sung the official world cup song in a Brazilian carnival dress; the professor would have found the golden boot much before the finals and claimed it (smiles).
DC : Do you think that the current Belgian generation has what it takes to win the Euro 2016? Is this team better than the 1986 World Cup one featuring Enzo Scifo?
PdR : No doubt, it has the talent. I hope that with experience and real team spirit success will follow. But we must also remember that not all the best teams win trophies.
Definitely there is more pure talent in this team but it is up to them to prove that they have enough character and discipline to conquer the heights.


Debojyoti Chakraborty

About Debojyoti Chakraborty

Debojyoti Chakraborty is a follower of English Premier League and European football. You can reach him at