With the advent of the Indian Super League (ISL), India’s been blessed to see some of the biggest names in world football enthral crowds with their talent but it’s still a rarity to see a icon get involved with the beautiful game at the grassroots level.
Aron Winter, 1988 Euro winner with Holland and formerly of Inter Milan, Lazio and Ajax, is in the capital for a series of coaching clinics organised by the KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Association).
A sturdy defensive midfielder who formed a crucial part of the Orange side from the 80s to the early 2000s, the 51-year-old Winter braved the searing heat to give some budding talents pointers that they are not likely to forget anytime soon.
On the sidelines of the event at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Winter sat down for a freewheeling chat with The Statesman, speaking on a wide gamut of topics, from Holland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, to the Justin Kluivert situation, to his chances of managing an ISL side in the near future.
Q. What are your thoughts about India? Is this your first visit?
Yes, it is my first trip as the KNVB has brought me here in my ambassadorial role to conduct clinics for grassroots development, with an special emphasis on girls football.
Honestly, I haven’t spent much time here so I can’t comment on the level of the game compared to back home.
I have been sightseeing around Delhi, though, and I can say from whatever I have seen/read/watched that it is an enormous and lovely country.
Q. The World Cup is little over a month away, but unfortunately Holland won’t be participating in it. Why do you think such a debacle took place?
You are right, it is a massive collective failure for a nation of our stature not to take part in the biggest sporting event known to man.
Especially if one considers we were so close to lifting the title in the previous edition (Holland came third in 2014).
Qualification began almost four years ago and I’m not sure where the finger should be pointed.
The sheer amount of players involved obviously hampered our progress, while coaches went through a revolving door as well.
And of course, lady luck was not on our side at crucial junctures in the campaign.
Q. Well, the World Cup is upon us, what are your predictions?
Who do I think will win?
Well, Germany are traditionally very strong at the World Cup, but it’s not just them this time as Belgium have a great squad and the two South American giants (Brazil and Argentina) look in great shape as well.
You know, if there’s anything I have learnt from playing at three World Cups, it’s that the favourites don’t always win.
There are a few teams that have surprised me in qualification, but I think the sides that I picked have a good chance of lifting the prize.
As I mentioned earlier, luck is an important factor. How else do you explain a goal-bound shot cannoning off the crossbar instead of trickling into the net?
Q. After managing the Ajax U-19 squad, you’re now the assistant manager of the senior squad. Do you harbour goals of becoming a manager in the future.
Yeah, I want to manage a senior side of my own. I never hid those ambitions and who knows?
Maybe in a few years, or even sooner, I’ll be the main guy in the dugout.
Q. Any chances we’ll see you in the Indian Super League soon?
Well, I won’t lie.
The prospect of working in India is an intriguing one. The league’s coming up well and the pay is pretty good.
It’s a challenge and I would certainly be up for it. (A source tells us that Winter is in preliminary discussions with an ISL team.)
Q. You know all there is to about Ajax after having played with them for so many years and now having entered the coaching aspect with them. They seem to be losing talented players to clubs with deep pockets a lot lately, is this something the management should be concerned about?
Are we aware that our best players leave between the ages of 18-22? Of course we are.
Are we worried? No.
It’s best to accept the facts and the truth is we simply cannot compete in terms of finances.
The big five (England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy) can not only offer better wages, but a more competitive league environ.
So what we have to do in order to survive is constantly innovate. We are great in identifying young talents and grooming them. We need to keep pushing the envelope in that aspect.
The situation isn’t nice, I admit, but we have to live with it and as I stated earlier, keep adapting to new situations otherwise we will lose further ground.
Q. Speaking of Ajax, we would be remiss if we didn’t ask you about Justin Kluivert and his whole situation with the club. Is he really worth the hype?
Oh yes, he’s a very good player. He’s got a lot of talent.
The problem is, once you play for Ajax, everyone starts to monitor you. It’s true there’s a lot of interest from abroad.
Will he stay? I can’t tell you. Of course I hope he does, but it’s his decision and not mine.
According to me, it would be ideal for his development if he stayed on for another two seasons, but I accept that in the current circumstances, that may not be possible.
Q. Considering you have played with some of the very best to have graced the football pitch, who make your top three?
That’s a tough question. I have been blessed to see some top talents up and close on a regular basis.
I don’t know if I can, but if I was forced to choose, it would probably be Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff.
I know what you’ll say.’All of them are Dutch!’
And during my days at Inter especially, I did rub shoulders with some amazing foreigners, but I think my compatriots were a cut above the rest.
Especially Rijkaard, for he really helped me during the time I made my debut.
Q. Lastly, but certainly not the least. I read that you experienced some racist chants during your time in Italy. It’s nearly been 20 years since then. Why do you think it’s still a problem in 2018?
Yeah, it’s true I had some issues in Italy, but never with Inter (Milan). It was mostly with Lazio and those were isolated incidents which I put behind me once I got my boots to do the talking.
The problem can be solved once everyone understands that colour, race, sex or religion doesn’t matter.
Everyone is equal and the sooner we start to treat our fellow human beings like that, the world will be a better place for it.