Bhutan’s dramatic but incomplete comeback against the Maldives on Thursday was celebrated like a big win. But the premature departure of the head coach of the national team, Norio Tsukitate, cast a shadow over the memorable feat, albeit a defeat.
In what was an unfortunate turn of events, disagreements between the coach and the team manager regarding team selection and positioning turned ugly midway through the game. The head coach, entrusted with managing the team, didn’t like the interference. He felt redundant and refused to take any further responsibility with the whole second half to play.
If the four straight defeats in a row were not enough, the whole drama surrounding the coaching staff is not helping morale in the Bhutanese camp. The national team scored three goals in the second half and that went in favour of the team manager, who openly blamed the head coach for his team selection. It is difficult to attribute the late drama on the pitch to the change in management, but it didn’t look good for the head coach.
What was wrong was the manner in which the incident was dealt with, both by the head coach and the football federation officials. Playing at a World Cup qualifying level, expectations are high, both on the pitch and off it. Perhaps, in the fallout of another likely embarrassing defeat, the tempers was lost and along with, professionalism. A coach should never leave a team even, indeed especially, when they are getting trounced. He is the captain of the ship and the break provides relief to steady his ship.
The head coach, charged with the responsibility, should not be sidestepped or interfered with in his decisions. He will take the responsibility for the game, win or lose. The greatest insult to a coach is to fire him midway through a game. The greatest betrayal to the team was to leave them to fend for themselves with a whole half to play.
What transpired during the break should not have occurred. The coach is not new. He had managed the national team through six international matches. The players and the managerial team should have been well aware of his tactics. If player selection or positioning was wrong, they should have protested when preparing for the match months ago. Every coach will have a strategy depending on his squad’s strength. It works only some of the time. Blaming each other or washing dirty linen in public is not the way forward.
Coach Tsukitate, as we learn now, focuses on basics. He was not bothered about the barrage of goals. He was focusing on a strategy that suits the team. In hindsight, the trust in the new coach was not there from the beginning. And this reflects in the loss of all the four games conceding 28 goals before Thursday.
Football fans wanted the honeymoon period to continue after Bhutan beat Sri Lanka twice to qualify for the next round. Unfortunately, the first goal we scored was after he left. The coach had other ideas, knowing we would go very far.
The road to Russia 2018 was expected to be rough. As we prepare for another match with a new in-charge, it is also time to look at the team. The squad should share the blame. So far, the fans had been generous, often sympathizing with and supporting them. Winning a match is not the priority, building a good team is.