Aussie coach thrilled to work with Zico in Indian Super League

The cashed-up Indian Super League kicked off on the weekend and one Aussie coach has found himself in the thick of the action alongside football legend Zico.

Former Newcastle Jets assistant coach Arthur Papas has added an impressive new entry to his CV as the White Pele’s right-hand man for franchise FC Goa.

Papas, coach for I-League outfit Dempo SC, has notched up a formidable reputation in the subcontinent since arriving two and a half years ago.

And now with club chairman, Shrinivas Dempo, one of three owners of FC Goa, the door has been opened to fast track the 34-year-old’s coaching education at the side of one of the greats.

Zico, named in the Fifa 100 list of Greatest Living Players in 2004, managed Japan to Asian Cup glory in 2004 and has coached teams to domestic honours in Turkey, Uzbekistan and Russia.

I’m in a great place at the moment

- Arthur Papas

“He was one of the greatest players of all time and as a coach has got a really good record – he’s won and Asian Cup, he’s coached in the Champions League,” Papas told FourFourTwo.

“For myself being an Australian coach, the opportunity to work alongside him for three months to pick his brains to learn his philosophies as a coach is a great experience.

“He’s a fantastic person as well – very humble and open to sharing his ideas. So I’m in a great place at the moment.”

The Bulls launch their bid for ISL glory on Wednesday after a month-long preparation which has included some impressive friendly wins.

Headlining the side is 40-year-old former French international and ex-Arsenal great Robert Pires.

Goa’s marquee joins the eight-team league’s stellar line-up of ageing football superstars including Juventus great and former Sydney FC marquee Alessandro Del Piero (Delhi Dynamos).

Papas said: (Pires) is obviously a little older now but he’s in great condition after training with Arsenal for three months to prepare for this.

“With his pedigree it’s great for the group to work with someone of his stature – and he’s already generated so much excitement.

“Every training session there are so many people attending with Arsenal tops. It’s been crazy.”

Papas, a former Victorian Premier League Coach of the Year, is not the only Aussie sharing Goa’s rollercoaster ride in the glitzy new 10-week league.

Dempo forward Tolgay Ozbey, 28, has been rewarded with a place in the squad after a strong I-League campaign last season capped off nearly five years in India.

In addition, former UAE-based Hussein Skenderovic acts as Goa’s strength and conditioning coach.

Zico is open to sharing his ideas, says Papas

Beyond the ISL, Papas has big plans for Dempo in 2014/15 after a year of overhauling the squad.

Having survived a rocky start to the 2013/14 campaign, the Golden Eagles surprised many to storm home and clinch fourth place as well as narrowly missing out on the Federation Cup Final.

But for the ambitious Papas, who took over at the helm of Dempo after stints with the U23 Indian national team as well as the Pailan Arrows – a youth development squad mixing it with the big boys in the I-League – nothing but silverware will satisfy.

“There was a lot of change at the club last season in terms of personnel, infrastructure and it took time to settle,” he said.

“For example when I arrived we had only one Under 23 national team player in the squad – by the time the preliminary squad for the next Olympic team was called up we had eight.

“It goes to show how much we did transform the first team squad.

“Next season, as long as we can navigate through this ISL period, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t be winning the I-league. That’s the goal for myself because I came here to win.

“After the Arrows and the Under 23s, which were very different projects, the aim is to win a championship. If it’s not next year it will be by the end of my contract.”

In the meantime, trying to balance the interests of Goa and Dempo presents the biggest challenge going forward.

The Melbourne-born coach will have less than a week after the ISL to work with his full I-League squad before they launch their cup campaign.

“Dempo SC will lose of bit of continuity that we developed but that’s part of the challenge coaching in Asia, and in particular within India today,” Papas said.

“You’ve just got to be able to adapt to situations as they arise without losing sight of the big picture.

“Normally you don’t split your squad for a period of 3-4 months but the guys who are the more experienced have moved into FC Goa for the time being and it’s a great experience for them.

“They’ve got some top internationals they’re going to play with and against, and they’ve got a renowned foreign coach to work with as well to add to their game.

“So there are benefits that come with it as well, and the only thing is we don’t have a lot of time as a full squad together once the ISL is completed.”

Papas: We are building something special

Papas has two years to run on his Dempo contract says while the A-League might lure him home one day, he’s totally focused on the here and now.

“I took a risk to come here,” he said. “I left the A-League when I decided to come across to India and try something very different.

“It’s very difficult for Australian coaches to keep jobs in Asia and for me that has probably been the biggest positive to come out of it.

“I’ve come into some really difficult environments and set out to improve and prove myself and I kind of thrive on that.

Papas added: “It would be great to come back home at some stage but right not I’m just focused on what’s ahead of me in the immediate term.

“I enjoy coaching Dempo SC in the I-League, and feel we are building something a little bit special right now.

“It’s been a fantastic experience, it’s still going and I’m enjoying every minute.

“And now I have the opportunity to work with Zico – it’s something I never imagined at the start and I’m going to make the most of it and try to learn the most I can from him.”

MAIN PIC: Spectacular launch of the star-studded Indian Super League