In the recent few years, the development at the grassroots level in India has been progressing at a heartening rate, according to India U16 coach Bibiano Fernandes.
There has been an increase in number of academies across the country with more and more teams participating across age-group tournaments, the opportunities for young players is increasing day by day, feels Bibiano.
"I think the development that has come with respect to grassroots in India has been remarkable in the last few years. There is now a common realisation that, to have a stable football ecosystem as a nation we have to focus on our grassroots. The increasing number of good and professional academies that are coming up across the nation is a positive sign," Bibiano told Goal.
He projected a rosy outlook on the future, highlighting the importance of establishing a good supply chain of players by improving our facilities and infrastructure at the youth level.
"In addition, with more and more academies prioritising development of players, all the while adhering to the AIFF accreditation rules, the supply of talented players has been on the rise compared to the past. I firmly believe if we can keep up the good work and steadily improve on aspects like infrastructure, we will have a very good supply chain of talented players in the years to come," he added.
Bibiano, who has played for the likes of Churchill Brothers, Dempo, East Bengal and Sporting Goa etc as a midfielder, turned to coaching during his time with Santa Cruz club in Goa. His experience with youth teams of Salegao and SESA Academy saw him come into the national set up.
"I had done some of my coaching licenses while I was still playing and during the 2011-12 season, I took charge of Santa Cruz club in the Goa Premier League as my first coaching assignment. I then had the opportunity to take up the challenge of handling youth teams with the Salegao U16 team and the youth teams of SESA Academy in the subsequent years.
"It was in 2015 that I was appointed as the Assistant Coach for the U17 World Cup ‘B’ team and post that, in November 2016 I took charge as the head coach of the India U-16 side," he said.
The high point of Bibiano's coaching career has been the 2018 AFC U16 Championship where his team stood toe-to-toe with the elite teams in Asia, only falling by a solitary goal to South Korea in the quarter-finals.
The 43-year-old feels a lot of credit goes to the exposure tours organised by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Sports Authority of India (SAI) which helped mould a fighting mentality among his boys.
"It was a really proud moment for all of us to reach the quarter-finals of the AFC U16 Championship 2018. In addition to being talented players, one of the other key strengths the team possessed was that the boys were all mentally tough and were never intimidated by the reputation of the opponents. That is one key factor why they were able to stand toe-to-toe with Asia’s best sides.
"And a major role in getting that mindset was in fact, played by the many exposures (matches) that the team got to play. When you play and compete against top sides in these exposure tours, the self-belief and confidence that comes in players is amazing. So I would say that what the team achieved in Malaysia was from a fine mix of several factors - a bunch of talented boys with a really positive attitude, some really good planning and the continuous and invaluable support from AIFF & SAI," he explained.
Most of his charges from the U16 team have since gone to represent the Arrows and have grabbed the limelight in the recently concluded I-League season like Vikram Pratap Singh, Givson Singh and more.
Bibiano expressed that it was satisfying to watch their progress and remained hopeful that more and more talents follow their footsteps.
"I try to keep track of how all the players I have worked with before are doing and it is very satisfying to know that they are indeed doing well. However, I feel it is not fair for me to take credit for their success because whatever they have achieved is due to their hardwork. Reaching and succeeding at the top level is not easy and I commend the boys who have done it with their determination and attitude. I just hope they keep up the good work and more of the boys follow in their footsteps," he said.
Bibiano also went on to state that the great Sir Alex Ferguson has been a role model for him and that he has picked up a couple of valuable qualities from the former Manchester United manager.
"During my playing days, there were a quite a few who influenced me - footballing idols as well as coaches who made significant impact on my game. However, when it comes to coaching, one person who has influenced me a lot is Sir Alex Ferguson. It is not easy to be the best at the top level for such a long time but Sir Alex did that with grace and I have managed to pick up some of the key values that he always stressed upon.
"Couple of things that I have been able to successfully instil in my players, is the importance of being aggressive and having a winning mentality- qualities that I have imbibed from the man himself," he explained.