Papas the Aussie pioneer in India

Ask anyone who knows a bit about football in this country and they’ll tell you elite coaching opportunities are rare as hen’s teeth.

For those with ambition and talent it’s a hard slog when you’re not one of the lucky few with a full-time gig.

One such coach is Arthur Papas.

Four years ago, and with an injury ravaged playing career behind him, Papas took over Victorian PS4 NPL club Oakleigh Cannons. He had only just celebrated his 30th birthday.

He soon began carving a reputation culminating in being awarded ‘Coach of the Year’ in Victoria – the  youngest to do so.

Papas brought success and professionalism to the semi-pro outfit from Melbourne’s suburbs (though his Cannons lost 3-2 in a thrilling 2011 VPL grand final to Green Gully).

But Jan Versleijen saw the potential and brought him into the Aussie national development system at the Australian Institute of Sport.

Sure enough, Papas was soon headhunted by Melbourne City (then Heart) and Newcastle Jets as an assistant coach.

But Australia and New Zealand don’t have two or even three top tiers – 10 professional clubs only. Slim coaching pickings.

And if you’re not a former Socceroo or a ‘name’ you’re always going to struggle no matter how good you are.

So rather than dwell, Papas flew off to Asia and the Indian FA after an invite from former FFA Technical Director Robert Baan.

That was 2012 and he’s been there ever since working, learning and developing his football philosophy.

First with the Indian U23s as head coach, then with Goa-based Dempo SC in the I-League, one of the country’s most celebrated clubs.

However, one of Dempo’s owners is also one of the three owners of ambitious new Indian Super League (ISL) club Goa FC.

Like the A-League, the ISL kicked off this week and run till December ( a compact three-month season). The league is flush too, with financial backing from Indian cricket stars and Bollywood celebs.

And with an invitation proffered by his Dempo Chairman to be part of the ISL project as an assistant coach, Papas grabbed the opportunity with Goa. 

Who’s the Goa FC head coach?

A certain Brazilian legend called Arthur Galinho, famously known as ‘Zico’. As if working with Zico wasn’t enough, Papas gets to work another great day in day out.

Arsenal Invincible and French great Robert Pires spearheads Goa FC’s frontline – one of a number of superstars adding their name to the ISL such as Anelka, Ljundberg, Trezeguet, David James while former Wellington Phoenix and All Whites coach Ricki Herbert is in charge of North East United.

“Even though he’s 40 you should see the condition he’s in,” Papas says of Pires.

“He’s spent the last three months training with Arsenal just to prepare for this. And he’s incredible to be honest. He’s got so much knowledge to pass on and you learn every day from these guys.

“Zico is known as a player but he’s also won the Asian Cup with Japan and was part of that whole revolution in Japan with Kashima Antlers.

“So he’s been in a similar position before and it’s probably where India is at today,” explains Papas.

And in a twist of fate Goa FC striker Tolgay Ozbey, a fringe Hyundai A-League striker in his day, has also found his niche on the sub-Continent.

“He is a great Australian success story in football,” says Papas.

Ozbey has scored 11 goals in 11 games for Dempo this year and is in his fifth year on the sub-continent.

Zico liked what he say and snapped him up for Goa.

“I’ve huge respect for Tolgay for getting outside his comfort zone and surviving in the environment here,” adds Papas.