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Watkiss: Into the right direction

  • Published at 08:11 pm September 5th, 2018
Watkiss
Bangladesh assistant coach Stuart Watkiss reacts during their Fifa friendly against Sri Lanka in Nilphamari in August Dhaka Tribune/Md Manik

This article was published in the September issue of the Sports Tribune Magazine

When the appointment of Jamie Day as the new Bangladesh head coach was confirmed, although not officially, one of the first things the 38-year old English coach did was to look for an assistant coach with more experience. Then he found Stuart Watkiss, the former Walsall and Wolverhampton Wanderers defender, who has had a distinguished coaching career for around a decade and a half for different clubs in England and India. Day and Watkiss joined the national team on the same day and since then, have worked together to bring out notable improvements in fitness and attitude of the players, which was reflected during the Olympic team’s campaign at the Asian Games 2018. Dhaka Tribune caught up with the 52-year old Watkiss for an exclusive interview after the national team’s final practice session in Bekasi, Indonesia earlier in August.

You have worked around 10 weeks with the Bangladesh team. In your opinion, how much has the team progressed so far?

Yes, we have progressed. We are definitely fit enough. They have lost body fat, they are fitter and because of that, they are able to play at higher tempo when they play the game. Everyone is trying to be a little bit quicker, and a little bit more intense. The work ethics have improved. I think the players know because they started seeing the results themselves. You can see the fitness and nutrition sides of the things are ok. When they get back to the clubs they have to be the ambassadors of all the stuffs. What we believe is the right way to do this in terms of preparation of the games, in terms of the foods they eat, in terms of the types of training. They got to be the ones going back into their clubs and if you try, to spread out the words. But we definitely improved. It’s about 10 weeks since me and Jamie came. We think we got into the right direction. Qualifying for the second round of the Asian Games is an achievement. We now look forward to the Saff Championship.

The defence of the team has improved, in terms of organisation, discipline, and more resistance. You have worked with the defence, the back four. What are the reasons behind the recent improvement?

There’s no secret, just hard work (laughs). It’s hard work and times spent on the training ground. And it’s important the players buying into, and believing, what I’m telling them. We haven’t done anything fancy. We think you need to do the basic things, and do them well. You have to do the basic things consistently. And to be fair to the players, they have done that. I think the next step in our development as a team is maybe when we do win the ball back we have to look after the ball a little better, and in terms of when you get the analysis back after the end of the game, you know the percentage of possession of ball we have, we would like to see slowly, slowly improving. I think most of the games, in Asia, the opposition have roughly three quarters of the ball, in terms of possession, and we only have 25% possession of the ball. We would like that now, building on the organisation, when we get the ball, to keep the ball better than what we’ve been doing.

Have you and Jamie introduced any new method that helped the back line, or the team, to improve?

That’s a difficult question. With due respect, I don’t know what the previous coaches did in terms of organisation. I think the feedback that we get from the players is that they think they are now more comfortable, and know what is expected of them, individually and collectively, in terms of when we have the ball, when the opposition have the ball. The areas that they have to fill when we haven’t got the ball. I think they feel more confident. That’s the main thing. If the players are confident, and believe in what they are doing, understand what we’re asking them to do, then you would like to think the performance would automatically look after itself, and improve.

What was the mood in the camp like after the historic qualification for the round of 16 at the Asiad?

Well, everybody’s seen the Facebook video, the way that the players were celebrating, and what it means; it means a great deal. Football all over the world, and sport all over the world, it’s all about winning. And when you win, you’ve got a little bit of success, and it makes everybody happy. Now we’ve got a taste of it. Now we’ve sampled a little bit of it. We want more of it. It’s like a (raffle) draw. Winning football matches is like a draw. When you win, it’s the best feeling in the world. And once you get a little bit of it, you want more of it and hopefully that’s what the lads feel as well.

How are you planning to combine the two groups – the Asian Games squad and the senior side – for the Saff Championship?

Well, we’ve combined them. The BFF was good enough to allow the older players to come. Obviously once the Asian Games gets completed, we’ll look at the condition of everybody again. It’s then important that the older ones are in peak condition to come into the team, and improve the team. But as I said there’s no trouble, if you like, integrating the two squads, because they’ve been together, really, for the last few weeks anyway. I have to say the older ones played a key part in the success of the Asian Games. The way they trained with the younger players, the way that they speak to the younger players, and the way they share their experience with the younger players. All plays a pivotal role in the success of the Asian Games. As I said, it won’t be a problem, if you like, in introducing the older ones into the team.  

Have you found any special quality among the Bangladesh players so far?

The speciality? Well I think ultimately, we talked about organisation. And we spoke about technical ability. And stuff like that. I think ultimately the greatest compliment that I can give the players is the work ethic. The work ethic and the desire to succeed, and without a doubt, that desire got them over the line against Qatar. You know, because they (Bangladesh) were very, very tired. And they should have been very, very tired because they ran the legs off in the 94 minutes. But they were able to keep going in the last couple of minutes. Ultimately that’s what won them the game.

You’ve worked in India previously. Did the experience there help you to get a taste of subcontinent football, now that you’re working here?

Well that just gives you a basic understanding of the Asian mentality maybe, the Asian way of life. And because I’ve worked a full year in India, I kind of knew a little bit what to expect. So I think yeah, it has helped. I talked a lot with Jamie behind the scenes. Again, I can tell him about my experiences, and what happened in the past for me. I think it has helped overall. And ultimately, the final decision always lies with the head coach. My role maybe is to help him with the training.

So how are you enjoying your role as the assistant coach of a national team for the first time?

It’s a little bit different for me personally because my last few jobs I’ve always been the head coach. So when Jamie called me, Jamie wanted somebody a little bit more experienced, obviously, I’m 14-15 years older than Jamie. So in terms of football I’m a bit more experienced. And I’ve worked in Asia before. I’ve worked in India so Jamie just wanted an older head with him, someone with a bit more experience. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed here. I think he’s (Jamie) a great coach. I think he’s an up and coming coach, he’s one with a great future, very enthusiastic. But it’s a slightly different role for me than I’m used to. First time at national level, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a great experience.