Saturday 23 March 2019

Terry's feeling good in his Indian summer

Terry Phelan is pictured in his role as coach of Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League
Terry Phelan is pictured in his role as coach of Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League

He is 10,000km and five time zones away, but Sligo still has a hold on the heart for Terry Phelan.

We should stress that former Ireland international Phelan (50) is happily employed with the academy attached to Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters, and that Sligo Rovers currently have a highly-rated manager in Ger Lyttle.

But should the chance come his way, to work with Sligo Rovers, there'd be no hesitation.

"I would run all the way to Sligo and take any job, that's how strongly I feel," says Phelan, who qualified for Ireland as his mother was from Sligo.

"It's my home town, I love football, I want to see the game played in the right way, I love developing players and what a job it would be to work for Sligo Rovers.

"People might say I don't know the league in Ireland but I know football, the experience you have from working under great managers, I have 35 years in the game. I am 50 but I have a young mind.

"I have always said I want to go back and live in Ireland. I have this vision of me buying a little place by a lake in Sligo, going out on my boat, have a few sheep, log fire going at home, one day I'd love to do that."

But for now, the much-travelled Phelan is content. He left England in 2001, working in the USA as a player, then as player/coach in New Zealand, and Kerala in India has been his home since 2015.

Kerala Blasters have big ambitions, a squad featuring former Premier League men Wes Brown and Dimitar Berbatov coached by ex-Manchester United coach René Meulensteen, and Phelan heads up their academy.

"I am the technical director for Muthoot Group, the Kerala Blasters' main sponsors. They have opened a big residential academy, for boys from U13 to U17," he says.

"I am here almost three years and it's a great job, wonderful people and the game is growing here, trying to get the players and coaches on the right pathway. We try to nurture the players through and hopefully some of them will have good careers."

Phelan hasn't yet been able to catch up with his former Ireland team-mate, Robbie Keane. "He was injured when his team, Kolkata, came down to play the Blasters so he didn't travel," says Phelan, who sees a big future for football in India, especially if they avoid the mistakes made in China, where imports like Carlos Tevez were given exhorbitant wage packets but flopped.

"In China they just tried to buy everything and the government had to step in but they are doing things differently here, they have academies all across the country, and structures," says Phelan.

"They won't do a China where you spend millions on players, we do have marquee players here in India but there is pressure on them to deliver. I'm against players in their late 30s just coming here for a few quid, they have got to deliver.

"The fans here in India are not daft, Kerala Blasters have the 10th-biggest crowd in world football, and those fans are not stupid, they can see the problems and they know what they want and if the marquee signings are not working out, the fans won't stand for it."

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