Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Tales of Americans traveling to far-flung outposts of the globe to earn a living playing professional soccer are a relatively common occurrence. Yet the number of coaches who have left the US to blaze a trail overseas are few and far between.
One could surmise that, like players 20 years ago, American coaches looking to ply their trade in foreign lands are willing to take on a monumental challenge in order get a foot in the door in the world of international soccer.
Such is the case of Tim Hankinson who finds himself teaching the beautiful game, Red, White and Blue style, for Indian League club Salgoacar.
Hankinson learned to play soccer in the streets of his hometown of New York City. His passion for the sport led to his calling to coach the game to younger players with stints at Syracuse and at historically black university Alabama A&M where he guided the Bulldogs to two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Coaching spells with a club in Iceland, two teams in MLS, Guatemala's Under-17 national team and Fort Lewis College of Durango, Colorado preceded his journey to the other side of the world where Hankinson explains exactly how he obtained his coaching position last summer.
"The person who placed me is Eddie Rock of Libero Sports. He does a lot of work in India and Asia," Hankinson recently told YA. "I have been here as 'Chief Coach', as they call it, six months and will conclude the first season on May 20th. My club is Salgaoacar SC in Vasco Da Gama in Goa, India. They play in the first division in the 14 team I-League."
The former head man of the Colorado Rapids, who is the first ever American coach to direct a team in Asia, constantly faces offield obstacles that his coaching counterparts back in the States could probably never fathom.
"The challenges outside the field like nutrition, malaria, monsoons season, etc...make the year a challenge beyond the game itself," Hankinson divulged. "The infrastructure must get better for soccer to get better. Fields for practice are poor and game fields and stadiums need improvement."
"Monsoon season in June/July/August makes training impossible. There are only two field turf fields in all of India. Basically, if I ever hear an American coach complain of field conditions, hotels, meals, etc...I will come over the kick their [butts]!"
In addition to the sub-par conditions, Hankinson must also deal with the ever-present threat of danger when Salgaocar venture away from Goa for a road game.
A recent contest at East Bengal, considered one of the bigger clubs in the I-League, saw the visitors score a late goal to earn a tie for Hankinson's squad which led to what many would consider his 'We're not in Kansas anymore' moment.
"The stadium had more than 500 crowd control police with shields, bats and rifles and we tied the game in the 90th minute," Hankinson recalled. "On the bus ride out of the stadium, the fans of East Bengal were lined on every side pounding the bus with rocks and bricks. [One the] size of a softball came through the window and everyone [got] on the floor of the bus."
"Later we heard fans were warming their arms up on us getting ready to show displeasure towards their own team. Two players went to the hospital."
Other eye-opening experiences range from his players having to take rickshaws to practice during a Federation Cup competition in a city where the air was so dirty that the locals have to wear scarves every day to the sight of seeing mass poverty in Calcutta, another non-soccer moment that the former Tampa Bay Mutiny head man will never forget.
"Calcutta is mass population [so there is] pollution and traffic will stay still for three hours with everyone beeping the horn non-stop," Hankinson said of the city that resides on the Ganges River. "People bathing in a pond, doing laundry in the river, very poor as poor can be. Public bathrooms do not exist so the side of a wall does the business."
Vasco, where Salgoacar is located, is in the region of Goa on the west coast of India to the south of Mumbai which makes for a hot and humid climate. Playing and training in sauna-like conditions would wear down even the most elite players in the game, so the job gets even more difficult for Hankinson who is imploring his players to improve their eating habits to better their nutrition and fitness levels.
"The nutrition of players is poor. Indian people eat for flavor, not health. Or they eat very little due to being poor. Building muscle needs protein and that is too often expensive. We educate and create good meals as best we can."
"Our Brazilian fitness coach Robson works on building strength and endurance but many players struggle as the work is new to them even at the pro level. They have not had a base of knowledge and work in their upbringing."
Despite the health shortcomings, the resident of the Empire State still ascertains that there is some quality among the players in the cricket-mad country.
"The Indian player is skillful and works over short distances. Pressing the game is not in his frame of thought or physical ability," Hankinson described. Most players are very incomplete. They may be a good dribbler but lack passing, etc... They] mostly have street skills, but not fundamentals. Too many players in the pro game that only want to play for fun."
"Roberto Donadoni once described "Fun" in [soccer] as executing the game at a high level. To do that, you have to train hard and make demands. Most players here resist demands. With my club I am changing that by creating a profile of the type of player to sign in the future. There are some that are complete players and grow everyday with demands. They are thriving," he states.
The current season finds Salgaocar in the midst of a rough spell of results which has the club sitting in 12th place in the I-League. With the season nearing the midway point, Hankinson still envisions building the Goa club back into an I-League power, and at the same time, help open doors for other opportunities in Asia or even back in the US.
"I am here to build and guide what at one time was one of India's top clubs back to the top," he concludes. "As the first American head coach of a pro team in Asia, I hope it will open opportunities here as well as other coaching positions in Asia or back in MLS."