ISL 2017: The BIG Interview with Eelco Schattorie

Eelco Schattorie and Avram Grant have taken over the reigns at NorthEast United and we were lucky enough to have a chat with the Dutchman, Eelco Schattorie about a whole host of things which range from creating stability to Tomato Ketchup, from Marcinho to Pep Guardiola. It was a very insightful chat with the assistant manager but first looks like at where he has been before arriving in the ISL.

Previous Clubs:

  • VVV-Venlo
  • Al Jazira
  • Al-Ettifaq
  • Al-Shaab
  • Al-Ettifaq
  • Muscat Club
  • Al-Riffa
  • Muscat Club
  • Fanja
  • Al-Khaleej
  • Red Bull Ghana
  • United Sports Club
  • East Bengal
  • Al-Ettifaq

You’ll notice that Al-Ettifaq appears on that list three times and he has fond memories of his time in Saudi Arabia which we’ll come onto shortly. The list is from Wikipedia so don’t necessarily take it as gospel and all the roles above are a combination of assistant roles, technical roles and of course managerial roles.

The one thing I wanted to find out straight away was what he was doing at NorthEast and what brought about his partnership with Avram Grant, to which he had this to say:

“Me and Avram share the same agent and my agent called me and said there was an opportunity to work with Avram and you don’t turn that down.”

Well, that clears that up! I was also keen to find out how he found his last time in India when he was in charge at East Bengal, but that was a topic best left alone as Eelco told me:

“It was a mistake.”

Didn’t want to press too much around that point so we moved on to talking about the here and now and what the players thought about Joao de Deus (previous NorthEast manager) now that he was gone:

“I’m more interested in what did he do as in like how did he leave the team in terms of fitness. (I’m) always careful when looking back at a coach, if a player says he’s rubbish then he will say the same when I leave. Dig out the things that are important like one system he did play. (He) left behind fat percentages. Don’t talk about previous coach.”

Focus on what you need to prove that day

It was quite refreshing to hear something like that as opposed to the normal drivel you hear from coaches, cough, Mourinho, cough. I then asked Eelco about his and Avram’s goals for the season, to which he gave this brilliant answer:

“I’m a big fan of Pep Guardiola, you never hear him talk about the championship or the position, he only focuses on today. I was reading a book by John Woods, a basketball coach, who only focused on principles as in doing your job, play in your position and work hard, focus on what you need to prove that day.”

He continued:

“Logic is (to go for the) top four positions but those are very far away and at the same time we are very far from that. To put a goal that’s very far away is not realistic, so we put short-term goals in terms of tactical parts, technical parts and fitness parts. Maybe five or six games into our challenge, we’ll put the goal in of the top four if realistic. For now, no. We are still busy assessing the team, assessing the qualities. Don’t come here to be busy, but if it’s realistic, we’ll see along the way.”

At this point, I’ve got to be honest, I was resting on his every word. I then went onto his existing squad and tried to get stuck in what plans if any they had for the transfer market.

“It’s not fair for me to comment on individuals because we’ve only been here a week but we are looking for a striker. The thing with strikers, I always remember what Ruud Van Nistelrooy said, that scoring goals is a lot like a bottle of ketchup sometimes it doesn’t come out and then after a few hits, they all come at once. We’ll see how it plays out.”

There’s no way in the world Van Nistelrooy said that I thought to myself but after a bit of investigating (typing it in google), apparently it’s true. I wanted to ask him whether he kept his Ketchup in the fridge or the cupboard but if he gave the wrong answer, I’d end the interview and that doesn’t help anyone!

ISL or Barcelona, 50% of each game is organisation

This interview was conducted prior to the ATK game (lost 1-0) and I asked him what he wanted from the game but the answer he gave me makes sense for every game:

“(When you) play at home, you always go for a win. ISL or Barcelona, 50% of each game is organisation and doing your job and that’s something we’re trying to get across. First, make sure you’re stable. Most important thing is to be stable.”

I tried my luck with the I-League again, this team steering away from the Dutchman’s time at East Bengal and looking at the difference in quality between the two top leagues in India.

“The format this year is a lot more spread which is better and it brings up the level because you’re not playing every two or three days. If you are then a team that’s bottom could end up top because it is about fitness and injuries if you spread it out, the level of playing goes up. The level is higher, Bengaluru are playing more football which I didn’t see last year ( in the I-League). In the I-League itself, the last two/three years staying one year and then go out one year or the club disappears that’s the difference for sure. But, you do have more chance to develop talent because they get a platform to play. In the ISL you have more foreigners  so for Indian players it would be more difficult to play striker, centre midfield or centre back because foreigners will play there.”  

Very interesting. What do you think about the leagues merging?

“The format where you have a league that is spread out the whole year will be better in my opinion because development comes from playing a lot of games. Would much rather have one league with 16 teams and they are spread out over the year for one competition. But the question is, is it financially possible in India because you’ll have clubs in I-League who will have way less money so can they compete?”

He’s right, if you did merge the leagues, I-League teams would be miles away although Bengaluru show that it can be done. To argue my own point against myself though, Bengaluru were the best so it’s not a fair comparison. Interesting all the same. His thoughts on the I-League were very insightful, so I was keen to know more about his time outside of India and posed him the question about Saudi Arabia compares to India.

“I worked in the Saudi League which is the third highest league in Asia and the players are much higher quality, I’m talking technically. The ISL is growing, you can see progression but overall if you bring in foreigners who come from different nationalities, I still think it would be the best thing if it was 60-40 Indian. The foreigners come for firstly financial reasons and secondly to do something for the club. It should be the other way around.”

I think you need a different format and less foreigners

A very valid point, it did cross my mind to ask if he was in India for the money, but I knew from speaking to him that he wasn’t. He carried on:

“If you really want to grow something then there has to be a commitment and if you come for financial things then when things are not going well, they’ll give less. In Saudi, the main part of the team are Saudis and that’s what you’re working on growing the football. I understand in India it’s about exposing people to football and getting people enthusiastic but to really grow Indian football I think you need to look at a different format and less foreigners.”

What a great answer, he wasn’t holding back so I tried to get a little more and asked what else he thought could be done to improve the ISL.

“The good thing is the format is spread out. As an improvement, decrease the foreigners and give more chance to Indian players, in the long run, that will benefit Indian football. For the rest, I still need to experience now I’m in the inside, but I need time to give feedback.”

Fair enough. What about your own future, Eelco?

“That is up to the club, if they are happy with our work then I will always be wanting to stay. I am a very loyal coach. The responsibility lies with the head coach but I’m happy to be working with Avram because he has contacts and background that can help you to the next stage. All I want to do is keep the team stable and take it from there.”

Eelco will be here for the long run then if NorthEast want to keep the pair of them on which is great to hear because he will add a lot, not only to the players he coaches but to the ISL in general. To finish up, I asked him what his and Avram’s tactical approach was going to be for the remainder of the season.

Most important thing is creating stability

“During my career as a coach, I saved a team four times from relegation where organisation or culture is not on the top standard. It’s like having a car that’s got a missing part and making it work. We are in a similar situation.”

A very frank assessment, all the same though, it’s true. Eelco continued:

Two things are important, create stability & trust. Last game before we come in, (NorthEast) lost 5-0 so morally and organisationally the team lost its way, I’ll keep the reason aside. Most important thing is to create stability and to do that, we need to make sure the organisation of the team is good, the formation is good and make sure the team knows its roles. To play fantastic, attacking football are our principles but you normally have a pre-season to do so, we don’t have that chance now. I like to play football and I like to dominate, is it realistic to do with this team at the moment? No way. So you look at stability, by making sure the organisation is good.

Stability is a word that he used a lot and it’s clear that he and Avram will be focusing on that. He then went on to talk about the importance of absolutely everyone;

“Everybody, whether in the team, on the bench or out the team has the goal of working together and wanting to do something together. The moment someone goes out (the team), you have a replacement and someone who’s ready, not someone who is demotivated because the other coach didn’t give him a chance or whatever. It’s a new chapter so everyone needs to be ready and to fill in. Those two things are key.”

That was the end of it and I thanked him for his time and he thanked me which I found very strange but such is the nature of the man, you just get a good feeling when you talk to him. I asked him if he had any more to add and he closed off with:

“Hopefully we’ll get this train on the right direction and get more out of it than everyone expects!”

I hope you do as well Eelco, I really do. It’s a shame they lost to ATK because I wanted to do this as a positive, yet in many ways, it still is because NorthEast were a completely different team last night and they only lost due to a bit of individual magic from Zequinha. The improvements have already started and the pair of them have been there little over a week, imagine what they could do with a preseason!

All things considered, if I was a betting man and luckily I am, I’d be backing NorthEast to get at least double the number of points (four) they got in the first half of the season during the remainder of the campaign.  

About the Author

Jake Flock
Football and writing are my two biggest passions, so seems right to combine the pair, don't you think?