Monday 16 December 2019, 13:09

Dennerby: India U-17 job is thrilling and challenging

  • Thomas Dennerby is leading India’s U-17 women’s team

  • The former Sweden and Nigeria coach is vastly experienced

  • He speaks about preparing the team for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2021™

The recent appointment of Thomas Dennerby as India’s U-17 women’s coach raised a few eyebrows, and underlined the ambitions of the nation hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2021™.

As a veteran of three FIFA Women’s World Cups™ with Nigeria and his native Sweden, the 60-year-old is one of the most experienced and respected coaches in the female game.

Working with U-17 players in a country where football is still developing undoubtedly presents a new challenge for Dennerby. But after decades spent at the game’s elite senior level, the Swede is relishing the opportunity to help build an exciting football future for women in this vast and fast-developing nation.

“As compared to the previous places where everything is already developed, coming to India is thrilling and challenging,” he said. “If we can do something good with this team it will be something new for this country. To help a country like India to have a successful World Cup would be very exciting."

“There’s also an opportunity to work with this team for a long time," Dennerby continued. "We have 350 sessions or more [before the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup]. Normally as a head coach, you usually get the senior team players on the international dates - 60-80 days in a year and a lot depends on how far you can go in major tournaments. Here, we have around four times that amount.

"So I hope we have a really good chance to develop the team and have a good tournament. It's a thrilling challenge and the main reason for all of us to come here.”

Dennerby has been getting a close-up view of his new charges at the ongoing Tri-Nation U-17 Women's Football Tournament, which is pitting India against Sweden and Thailand. Although the U-17 Women’s World Cup hosts lost their opening match 3-0 to Sweden in Mumbai, their coach has seen enough to leave him positive about their longer-term prospects.

“Yeah, the girls are doing well,” he said. “We have some technical and skilful players. We have players with speed, good dribblers and players with good vision, and good reading of the game. Also, we have some strong defenders with good reading of the game and good positioning. We have different good types of players and, honestly, I’m impressed with the girls and they are doing well.

"We always want to win and can never be happy when we lose. [But] we know Sweden are a strong team in Europe and everybody knows their senior team won the bronze medal at the World Cup this year. I'm definitely proud of the girls and we created some really good scoring chances. Maybe the accuracy wasn't enough in the final moments, but it's something we are working on.”

Dennerby’s players face Thailand tomorrow in their second game of the tournament, and the India coach is hopeful of moving towards a possession-based style of play that complements their attributes.

“If I tell girls to go for the long balls or play on the counter-attack, then we won't succeed because we don’t have those type of players,” he explained. “Our game here is more playing through midfield – good passing, use the good wingers and dribblers we have.

“It is also extremely important for us to work hard on fitness levels. It is important that you feel strong in the players’ tunnel and feel that you are ready with all that training behind you.”

In preparing his players for these challenges, Dennerby has recruited some heavyweight help. Former athlete Per Karlsson heads up the team’s fitness training, while Nigeria legend Precious Dede – a veteran of four Women’s World Cups and three Olympic Football Tournaments – is coaching India’s aspiring keepers.

Precious Dede, goalkeeper of Nigeria gives instructions

“Precious was with me in Nigeria for a while and of course, she's experienced - having 99 caps for Nigeria,” said Dennerby. “However, that was not the primary reason to bring her - it’s the fact she is a really good goalkeeping coach.

"She has a good plan and works hard. When you work with young players, it's important you have a good personality and are a good role model. She is working very hard with the girls in training and we can already see improvement.

“Per was also with the Nigerian team. He was a hammer throw athlete, who could throw over 75 metres. He is very strong and he has been working with things such as endurance training for track and field athletes, football, hockey and so on.

"He has worked a lot with players between 15 and 17 years of age and that is very important because, if you have worked only with seniors, your expectations can be [too] high.”