Full transcript of Coach Conor, Kattimani, Sana and Knowles at the ISL Media Day
Bengaluru: The Indian Super League season is almost here and the ISL Media Day saw the coaches and players of various teams catch up with the Media from across the country a week before the start of the season.
Hyderabad FC First Team Coach Conor Nestor was accompanied by goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani, defender Chinglensana Konsham and attacker Joe Knowles for the Media Day. Read the full transcript below:
Q: What did you learn about Hyderabad FC in the league before you decided to take up the job of Head Coach of this team? And what is your first impression of the players and of the league, the outside world so far?
CN: Firstly, I suppose, there was always an association with the ISL, thanks to Robbie Keane. As an Irishman, we all looked to him and became here because we follow everything that he does. Secondly, I think during COVID, most leagues, like the league I was working in, was shut down. Thankfully, we watched the Super League at that time. So, I’ve seen many games of all the teams in the league.
I guess when HFC approached me, there was already that feeling that it was a league I’d like to work in. And then after lots of discussions, I knew that it was the right club for us.
Q: How has the training been so far?
CN: Yeah, I’m very lucky. The players are very professional and very hard-working. Of course, we have many changes. We lost a lot of good players. But luckily, we found some good ones too. So, it is early days for us. We have a lot of gelling together to do. They have to get used to maybe a new coach and new teammates. But quality-wise, I couldn’t be happier with the squad I’m working with.
— Hyderabad FC (@HydFCOfficial) September 12, 2023
Q. You’ve taken over from a well-loved, successful coach. So, how does that feel, stepping into somebody else’s shows, who’s done well, against the odds, So, how does it feel to be able to do a job like that?
CN: Well, firstly, I’d rather follow someone who is successful than someone who is unsuccessful. It makes the next coach’s job easier. I think, in a way, your question is about expectation.
I’ve never been in an environment where somebody expected more from me than I expect from myself. And you almost said that somebody else’s shoes. I hope in time, I’ll wear my own shoes. I’ll do it my own way. And the most important thing, although I know I did a brilliant job, it is the players that won the games. In my last club, the players won a lot of games, but it was the players, not me.
So, I have a job to do. So, I have the whole coaching staff and the club as a whole. But once the players step on the pitch, it’s the other guys that are going to do it. And, like I said, the squad is such a good one. We’re really happy with our business and we’re really looking forward to the season.
Q: Your first season, you mentioned that there’s something big that you’re looking forward to. Till now, how have you assessed the players that you’ve looked at till now at Hyderabad FC? And what are the players who you’ve noticed thus far, whatever your research has been?
CN: Yeah, well you know, nine players went out first and nine have come in. So our big focus on players is just our own ones at the moment. In terms of looking at the opponents, what I know is it’s a very strong league and every team can beat every other team. And I think that’s great for a fan if you look at so many leagues around the world. You can’t really say that. I think in this league that we’ve paid attention to for a long time, anybody can beat anybody. That’s great for the fans.
For us, I think nine players is more than you plan for, than you would like in and out. So our main focus really has got to be what are we about, learning how we’re going to play together and committing to that and trying to put the best product as possible on the field for our fans, our city and the state that we’re living and working.
Q. How much did the decision to hibernate influence the fact that you’d already won the ISL before? Did that give you a good feeling inside of coming in and enjoying football?
CN: I think probably the major determining factor for me was the club that I worked with in Cambodia. One of my jobs was to build all the departments around the first team, like analysis, sports science, recruitment, the medical team, etc. A big draw to me with Hyderabad was that all those structures were placed on me.
— Hyderabad FC (@HydFCOfficial) September 12, 2023
They are a club that had a very clear identity. That identity matched mine as a coach. I like to help develop young players. I like to be brave and to give them a chance. But ultimately, they didn’t have to take the chance. To try and mix that with being competitive, that’s the most exciting challenge for me.
To have the best budget in the league, I don’t know what that’s like. In Cambodia, we had to win the league with the fifth-biggest budget and we did it. I think it’s a similar challenge here. To develop young players and grow the club as a whole, that’s what the club is about. That’s what I’m about. Now we have to do the work and not just talk about it. I won’t make you talk. Over to the work.
Q. You had quite a few ups and downs which you spoke about briefly. How did you come out of those two phases and how does the team and your teammates help you out?
LK: I think it is all about working hard. When I’m down, I like to work more. I like to talk to my coaches and my friends who help me to overcome my hard times. In that sense, I have always wanted to learn. They help me to overcome all my bad days and I am thankful to them.
Q. You know, you cultivated a cult hero-like following in the ISL. And your story of sort of your rise as goalkeeper in both perception and your level is something that we talk about a lot. How much has Hyderabad FC and the ISL played a part in that? And how close are you to this club at heart?
LK: I’ll be honest, I’m really happy to be in Hyderabad. When I was in FC Goa, I had a hard time. And then when I joined Hyderabad, the first year we had a good season. But then after that, the last two seasons we did very well. And I got my confidence back. And I tried to build my confidence on that. All I can say is that I’m trying to do my best and perform better than before.
Q. Since you have a new manager with you, why don’t you tell him and us your best moment so far in playing in the ISL?
LK: It’s been 12 years, personally. Four years at this club. But winning the cup in the finals, in a bubble, when we were allowed to play in front of the fans was unforgettable. I think to win the trophy and leave the trophy with the fans was really a beautiful moment.
Q. You’ve been around the league for a long time. You’ve seen it drop. What do you think the ISL has done in the last 10 years to build a talent pool of Indian youngsters who can now be a direct leader of the national team and the major league teams as well?
CK: I think the ISL has done a brilliant job in the last 10 years. I was there from when the ISL came into picture. As you can see now, there are a lot of good players, technically, as well as mentally. The Indian boys have improved massively and the coaches as well. They are very close to the quality coaches that we have in the biggest footballing countries
Also, the quality foreign players that we’ve played alongside and against. Which helps the domestic players immensely. And you can see the results of the national team that’s been doing so well in the last, I would say, 2-3 years. We’ve been doing really well. We look forward to continuing to do good job and we look forward to the next challenge and keep improving every year.
Q. You guys have been in the title chase for a while now. You’ve been very successful over the last two seasons. but with a changed coaching staff and a changed playing squad, How do you as players adjust to it? What is the atmosphere like right now at the club?
— Hyderabad FC (@HydFCOfficial) September 12, 2023
CK: I think one of the key things we always say in the club is we have a very good group. Coach Conor comes in and he’s very much welcomed. The Hyderabad FC players are always supportive. And as a team, we have new players that come in and they’re really nice guys. And that’s very important for us. We take that positivity from the training to the pitch. That’s what we’ve been doing in the last three or four seasons. And we continue to do that in this year. And I think technically, every coach demands a lot. And we are learning and progressing as a team from every training session. And we’re practicing as a team every day. As a group, I think we want to bring everything that is there to the table. We have the coach and the new players that have come in. So we want to continue to bring that success.
Q. How desperate are you to get back to the national team in the months and weeks to come?
CK: Of course, your performance in the ISL is important. You have the Asian Cup now a few months away. Yeah, I had to take a chance of missing out on the two tournaments that I missed out on the last two months.
But what happened back home, Manipur, was very unfortunate. I had a very hard decision to make. And at that time, I thought family for me was the most important. Because even if I had gone to the national team, I wouldn’t be ready mentally. And it’s not good for any player to go to a player’s country if you don’t have the representation of his people.
So the decision was very difficult to make for the country. But I think at that point in time, my family meant the most. Of course, I have plans to keep working hard in every training session. We’ve got to work closely and keep improving as a player. Not think too much of the future. And do as much as I can do every day, training and matches coming up. Of course, I want to do it at the national team again, soon.
Q. What do you have to say about the growth of fan culture in Hyderabad and Hyderabad FC as well? And in general, how much has the ISL been facilitating the movement of fan culture from the other parts of the country?
CK: As I said, when the league started back in 2014, I was at a football academy back then. So people were talking about football. It was a big, big thing back then. And it’s building. As you can see now, how many people have started following football. And how well the National Team is doing. And everyone in India is doing well, participating as it should be. So fans have been massive for all the clubs.
And Hyderabad particularly, the last four, five years, has been a growing club. It’s a new club, but nevertheless, to win a trophy in the third season, and then to defend this, is not easy. But yes, I think the marketing team from the ISL as well as the clubs are doing really well to improve. I think there’s always room for improvement. And we all have to follow that and to help the club grow. So Hyderabad is now a club that’s for the fans, for the people of Hyderabad to support. And I think they will turn up to the stadium.
Q. My question is, you spoke about it earlier. How difficult has it been to focus on football and all the things you want to do back home?
🎙2️⃣8️⃣ Joe Knowles! pic.twitter.com/KoYwpKig6r
— Hyderabad FC (@HydFCOfficial) September 13, 2023
CK: The last two months have been really hard for us. Everything has been taken away. All the war and everything. It’s been very difficult because we had to start again. It’s a very difficult situation. I think the best thing for me and for the club is to be able to focus on football. Football has been the most important thing for me. I’ve been providing for myself and for my family. That’s what I focus on. I put more energy into that and start to do it again. That’s what I focus on. I’m not thinking about what has happened. I’m thinking about what I’ve learned so far and what I want to do.
Q. So many Australians have played in the ISL before and continue to come. What conversations did you have with them before moving in? How much did they influence your decision to come and join ISL?
JK: Yeah, obviously a lot of Australians come in and play in the ISL. It increases the interest. I’ve spoken to a couple of friends back in Australia that have only spoken well about the league. They said, I think that my style would suit the ISL. It’s a very exciting league and that’s what I like to do.
For me, it was a no-brainer. I had a close friend, Joel, who played at the club last season and the previous season before. He did really well. Hopefully, I can follow in his footsteps and create new memories and experiences for myself and the fans.
Q. Your first impression, what have you made of training with your teammates so far? And Kutty Marine sitting to your right is a well-issued legend. I’m not sure if he’s told you his stories or his red-whites before. But what have you made of players so far?
JK: He’s been practicing penalties and training and he hasn’t done too well. Training has been, you can see, very good. The coaches come in and the training has been really high standard. And I’ve been quite surprised with the level of standard over here. And obviously, they’ve done very well in the previous three seasons. So we’re looking to build on that and continue this year as well.