With two years of I-League experience under their belt, the Scottish manager suggested that Real Kashmir will aim to win the title this season…
Scottish manager David Robertson took charge of Real Kashmir FC in January 2017, just six months after the club was formed and has done a commendable job so far.
Robertson guided the club to promotion to the I-League in just their second year of existence and created history as Real Kashmir became the first club from the valley to play in the country’s top division league.
The Scottish coach will be in charge of the club for a fourth consecutive season this year and he suggested that he feels a deep sense of loyalty to the club, their fans and most importantly with the region of Kashmir.
“I have been part of the club since they started and I have been lucky to be a part of such a successful club,” said the Real Kashmir coach while explaining why he continued to remain associated with the club.
“I feel loyal to the people of Kashmir and I also feel loyal to the ownership. Sandeep (Chattoo) has been fantastic to me and my family. To be honest, I find it difficult to not come back here. Even in these tough times, thousands of miles away from home and family, I dint want to let the club and Kashmir down. Obviously, it will at some point come to an end either my decision of the club’s decision as it happens in football. But I just love every minute when I am here.”
Robertson is known for his pragmatic approach which has worked for the club in the past two seasons in I-League. They finished third in their debut I-League season and was on the fourth position on the league table last season before the league had to be abruptly stopped due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
In their first season in the top tier, the Scot used to constantly mention that his only target was to stay afloat in the league, even at a time when the club was unbeaten in 13 matches and were one of the title contenders. The reason he said for saying so was the lack of experience of his players at the top level.
But now his players are experienced and Robertson acknowledged that they would aim to fight for the league title.
“I would like to think that we could be there (winning title). Obviously, in the first few games, no one knows where they are but I think we have assembled a good squad capable of pushing the challenge. Two years under the belt now we know what it is all about. Obviously, there is no East Bengal or Mohun Bagan this year which makes a little bit easier for the other teams. The giants are no longer there and now there will be a new favourite to win the league.
“The two years I’ve had in the I-League has certainly opened my eyes and each year I am here, I am more prepared. Our squad is a lot stronger this year with a lot more experience. We would like to be pushing for the title, come the end of the season.”
The upcoming I-League season will witness a change in its format as the 11 teams will play each other just once in the stage before they will be split into two groups. While the top five teams will compete for the title by playing against each other in a round-robin format, the bottom six teams will play each other to save relegation.
Robertson acknowledged that a shorter season will be a difficult challenge for them and the team who would have the better start will have a better shot at the title.
“It is all about how we start. This year the problem is it is a very short season. 10 games, one against each team in the league stage then it gets split. It is very difficult. It is not like a long season where you get time to build. You’ve got to make sure you start well to have a serious chance of lifting the title or even challenging,” said the Real Kashmir boss.
Real Kashmir were recently crowned champions in the IFA Shield which concluded on December 19 in Kolkata. Robertson’s side got the better of George Telegraph in the final to lift their first major trophy since winning the Second Division I-League in 2018.
The former Rangers player suggested that competing in and winning the prestigious IFA Shield will help boost the confidence of the team ahead of the all-important upcoming I-League season.
“It was great to win the IFA Shield. We hardly trained unlike a lot of other teams. We had an almost new squad and the players did not play for seven-to-eight games. I believe there must be something magical about the yellow jersey because any hurdles that are thrown at us, we overcome that. It shows that we are a good side again this year and it gives us a lot of confidence going into the first league game.”
There is a common notion that Real Kashmir get a lot of advantage while playing at their home at Srinagar as most teams in the I-League struggle to adjust to the extreme weather conditions in the city. While Robertson agreed, he also highlighted the other side of the coin.
“Obviously we would have liked to play at our home. There is obviously the altitude and then there were the harsh winters, tight conditions with a full house stadium. But you have to look at this as well that we travelled from cold temperatures to warm places like Goa, Kolkata. We had to adapt with that plus we had two days of travel. What people don’t know is that we had to travel from Srinagar to New Delhi and then an overnight stay and then a second flight.
“This season will be completely different. Firstly, no travelling and climate will be the same for everyone else. It works both ways.”