Having the distinction of being the only international football coach from Jammu and Kashmir, Sajid Yousuf Dar is considered among the top talented coaches of a country.
During his playing days, he represented Jammu and Kashmir in various football tournaments in the 1990s. In early 2000s, when he felt the dearth of coaches in Jammu and Kashmir, he prepared himself to be the one who can guide the players in the game.
In conversation with Rising Kashmir’s Misabah Bhat, football coach Sajid Yousuf Dar talks about her journey as a coach and the future of football in Jammu and Kashmir.
Tell us about your football journey.
In 1990 there came a team called Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), that is where the journey began. It was Biscoe school’s team, and it was given a professional touch in 1991 which marked the beginning of my career as well as the footballing scene in Kashmir. And with this, the inter-schools and inter-districts matches also started.
I was studying in SP School at that time and represented them in inter-schools and inter-districts. I was caught by the eye of selectors there and got selected for the under-19 team after which I played in three Santosh Trophies for the state and also participated in the Federation Cup and this was despite the turmoil that had gripped Kashmir in the 1990s.
How did you decide to go into coaching?
In the early 2000s, I felt that there was a dearth of coaches in Jammu and Kashmir, so in 2003 I went for a sports diploma in football coaching from NSNIS Patiala. After returning back, I worked for JKFA in youth development and was made head-coach for the state under-21 team.
Later in 2006, I got a job in Kashmir University (KU) where I have been working as a football coach. Also, during this time, I have been getting my coaching licenses as required by AFC (Asian Football Confederation). When I finished my A-License in 2010, I started receiving different assignments from AIFF (All India Football Federation). I attended an India under-19 camp and after seeing my work there the technical director of AIFF recommended coaching India under-14 team and with this under-14 team we went to SAARC international tournament in Tokyo where we had a good tournament. The highlight of the tournament was drawing against the host nation.
After returning back, I was made head coach for an under-16 team based in Mumbai. Then, in 2014 I was made head coach of the under-17 FIFA World Cup preparation team; India was hosting the under-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017. But I was able to continue for a few months only because in late 2014 Kashmir was hit by devastating floods and our house was badly affected.
I was appointed as head coach for the Senior Women’s National Team in 2015 through 2017. In parallel I was Technical Advisor for Women’s football development all over the country and was also educating women football coaches. From 2017 till now, I am working on a coach educator panel.
Who has been your inspiration?
My father, Mohammed Yousuf Dar has been behind my success. He is my childhood hero and whatever I am today is because of him.
He was the first professional footballer; as well as the first footballer from Kashmir to play international football. He was quite famous during the 1970s. I’ve been looking at my father since childhood and that is how I got attracted to this game.
The game of football, you could say, is something hereditary in our family and hence it was an easy decision to make to be associated with this game. My father used to take me and my younger brother to the grounds and that is how the interest developed. It was my younger brother whose career in football took off first, it was only after I saw my brother achieve things that I decided this is what I also want to do.
At Kashmir University, the students have not performed at higher levels, what could be the reason?
In order to perform at a certain level, you need to have a better framework and better plans. Most of the time in competitions we would travel for 24 hours and then play that evening or very next morning. Our boys would be drained out and exhausted, so obviously the result would be disaster. We used to go for the formality, just to participate. Then we put plans into action, like having proper coaching camps, access to proper facilities. In the next games held in Kashmir we made it to quarter finals, losing to AMU in penalty shootouts, which one could say was unlucky.
Since my appointment, our KU team has made it through to last 8 on several occasions. But, because of the potential that I see in our boys and the type of football that we can play, I believe the best is yet to come and the day is not far when we will qualify for finals and even win.
We have reached the stage where our team is giving tough times to the top leading University teams. We have been consistent in our performance from the last ten to twelve years now and we have reached up to quarterfinals on many occasions, winning four to five games back-to-back and then losing in a tie breaker or small margins.
Our team is now being recognized as the best teams in the north zone and our boys have got the potential to compete against any opponent and if we have enough preparation days, we can surely perform better than what we have done so far. Moreover, there are other factors as well which creates hurdles at times like our annual examination session, road blockades, back-to-back matches etc. and now many of the colleges are under Cluster University now.
We need to understand the importance of sports, be it any game and at any level. It is going to take a bit more time, things will definitely change, and we can achieve better results if better plans are executed in a better way.
From the last few years, with the kind support of the competent authorities of the university, a lot of sports events are taking place. We are certainly moving in the right direction, and I am sure the KU Football team will attain new heights.
How do you see the future of football in Kashmir and at national level?
The future of football is bright; we have already produced stars like Mehraj-ud-Din Wadoo and Ishfaq Ahmed. They are role models for others. Currently we have Danish Farooq who is playing for Bengaluru FC in ISL. For young players they have opportunities within Kashmir like Real Kashmir FC. I feel if a player has determination and discipline in a game, he/she can make it to a professional level.
There were many departmental teams which produced many footballers, now that is not happening. What do you think are the reasons? Should those teams be revived?
Definitely those teams should be revived. We have pleaded to the government for that. In my younger days there were 15 departmental teams, which means that around 300 footballers were earning while playing for their departmental teams. I don’t know why these departmental teams were disbanded but would like to have them back.
What are your current assignments as a coach?
I am the only International Football Coach from Jammu and Kashmir. I also remained the technical director of Real Kashmir FC, Lonestar FC, State Football Academy and tried my best to contribute something for my state, now Union Territory.
Apart from working in Kashmir University as a football coach I am rendering my services to All India Football Federation (AIFF) as a Coach Educator, whenever needed. Recently I have been upgraded as AFC B License Coach Educator.