With two years of I-League experience under his belt, the Scottish manager suggested Real Kashmir would aim to win the title this season …
Scotland manager David Robertson took over as 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 towards promotion to the I-League in its second year of existence and made history when Real Kashmir became the first club in the Valley to play in the nation’s premier league.
The Scottish coach will be in charge of the club for a fourth consecutive season this year and he has hinted that he feels a deep sense of loyalty to the club, their fans and especially the Kashmir region.
“I have been with the club since their beginnings and have been fortunate enough to be part of such a successful club,” Real Kashmir coach said 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 property. Sandeep (Chattoo) has been fantastic for me and my family. To be honest, I find it hard not to come back here. Even in these difficult times, thousands of miles from home and my family, I don’t want to let the club and Kashmir down. Obviously that will end at some point, whether it’s my decision of the club’s decision as it happens in football. But I just love every minute when I’m here.
Robertson is known for his pragmatic approach which has worked for the club over the past two seasons in the I-League. They finished third in their first season in the I-League and were in fourth place in the league table last season before the league had to be abruptly brought to a halt due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In their first season in the top league, the Scotsman used to constantly mention that his only goal was to stay afloat in the league, even at a time when the club were unbeaten in 13 matches and were one contenders for the title. The reason he said to say it was the inexperience of his players at the highest level.
But now his players are experienced and Robertson has acknowledged that they would aim to fight for the league title.
“I would like to think we could be there (title winning). Obviously in the first games nobody knows where they are but I think we put together a good team capable of taking up the challenge. Two years under the belt now, we know what it is. Obviously, there is no East Bengal or Mohun Bagan this year, which makes the other teams a bit easier. The Giants are gone and now there will be a new favorite to win the league.
“The two years I spent in the I-League have certainly opened my eyes and every year that I’m here I’m more prepared. Our team is much stronger this year with a lot more experience. We would like to push for the title at the end of the season.
The next season of the I-League will see a change of format as the 11 teams will face each other only once in the stage before being split into two groups. As the top five teams go head to head for the title playing against each other in a round robin format, the bottom six teams will battle it out to save relegation.
Robertson acknowledged that a shorter season will be a tough challenge for them and that the team with the better start will have a better chance of winning the title.
“It all depends on how we start. This year the problem is that it is a very short season. 10 games, one against each team at the league stadium, then it is divided. It’s very difficult. It’s not like a long season where you have time to build. You have to make sure you start well in order to have a serious chance of winning the title or even contesting, ”said the Real Kashmir boss.
Real Kashmir were recently crowned champions of the IFA Shield which ended on December 19 in Kolkata. Robertson’s side beat George Telegraph in the final to claim their first major trophy since winning the Second Division I-League in 2018.
The former Rangers player has suggested that participating and earning the prestigious IFA Shield will help build team confidence ahead of the next all-important I-League season.
“It was great to win the IFA shield. We barely trained unlike many other teams. We had an almost new team and the players haven’t played for seven to eight games. I think there must be something magical about the yellow jersey because all the obstacles that are thrown at us, we overcome them. It shows that we are a good team 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 gets a lot of advantage playing from their home in Srinagar as most of the I-League teams struggle to adjust to the city’s extreme weather conditions. While Robertson agreed, he also pointed out the other side of the coin.
“Obviously we would have liked to play at home. There is obviously the altitude and then there were the harsh winters, the tight conditions with a full house stadium. But you also have to look at this: we have gone from cold temperatures to hot places like Goa, Kolkata. We had to adapt with that and we had two days of travel. What people don’t know is that we had to travel from Srinagar to New Delhi, then one night and a second flight.
“This season will be completely different. First, no travel and climate will be the same for everyone. It works both ways. “