Syed Abdul Rahim or ‘The Architect of Modern Indian Football’ coached the Indian team to the semi-finals of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Football Tournament. Rahim was a sports lover since his childhood and had extraordinary football skills at a very young age. Let’s dig into more facts about Syed Abdul Rahim.
Born on 17 August 1909 in Hyderabad, Syed was an all-rounder. He used to participate in his school’s sports & athletic events and was also good at academics. In the mid-1920s, the football ‘culture’ reached Hyderabad and inspired Rahim and lured him into this sport. Subsequently, he went on to play for his university in the Osmania University football team. He was a graduate and started his career as a school teacher. However, he pursued his career in becoming a coach and made India reach its glory.
Syed was married and had a son– Syed Shahid Hakim who is a Former Olympic football and FIFA official.
- Syed was called the Stan Cullis of India. He was amongst the greatest players of Hyderabad from the 1920s to the early 1940s, when he used to play for ‘Qamar Club,’ which was one of the best teams in Hyderabad’s local league at that time.
- The Hyderabad Football Association came into existence in 1939, and 3 years later, in 1942, SM Hadi became the President of Hyderabad Football Association and Rahim became the secretary and remained so till the day he died.
- Rahim had an unconventional, innovative, yet effective style of coaching. To sharpen up players’ reflexes, speed, stamina, skills, and techniques, he organised customised football tournaments for youngsters. Syed did not follow the conventional British style of just dribbling the ball. When he became the coach of ‘Hyderabad City Police’ (HCP) or ‘City Afghans’ in 1943, he introduced the concept of passing the ball more and focused on being ambidextrous, i.e. ability to play with either foot.
- In just a matter of few months, he transformed the HCP team into a dominating local team that came into limelight in 1943 after their famous win in the finals of the Ashe Gold Cup in Bengaluru against Royal Air Force, which included England’s cricket and football international “Denis Compton.” They also managed to challenge the well established Bengal football teams of that time as they beat Mohun Bagan in the finals of the 1950 Durand Cup.
- In 1950, he became the coach of the Indian National football team and simultaneously managed the Hyderabad City Police team as well.
- After taking over as the new Indian coach, Rahim changed the outlook of the Indian team by eliminating the 1948 Olympics team. He took those decisions which increased the productivity and efficiency of the team even if it meant dropping the non-performing stars and rooting for new talents.
- Rahim’s first major tournament as India’s coach was when India hosted the 1951 Asian Games. Rahim made India proud as India went on to win a gold by beating Iran in the finals by 1-0.
- After India lost at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, the high-ranking AIFF official interfered and stopped Rahim from picking the team of his choice.
- The HPC managed to win all the 12 national tournaments held in the years 1950, 1957, and 1959.
- Prior to 1959, Hyderabad and Andhra were observed as two independent entities of football. From then onwards, the two entities were combined to a single entity- Andhra Pradesh Football Association, where Rahim played a pivotal role in letting it happen.
- At 1960 Rome Olympics, India didn’t get a good start to the tournament; as they lost to South Korea by 2-1, but India managed to fight back with a 2-0 win over Japan in the very next game. In the final group game, India beat Thailand by 4-1 and progressed to the next stage. India became a spectacle to watch by displaying such a spirit at the Olympics.
Syed’s favourite football team was Hungary, and favourite football players were Gusztáv Sebes, Robert Andrew Fruval.
Syed died in India due to cancer on 11 June 1963 (Age at the time of death, 53 years). He retired as the principal of a high school in Hyderabad and was associated with the game until his untimely death. He never got the credit he deserved but a trophy in the I-League, and the award ‘Syed Abdul Rahim Best Coach Award’ has been named after him.
- Syed Abdul Rahim used to smoke.
- Under his excellent coaching, the HCP team won 5 consecutive Rovers Cups, which remains a record to this day. The team also managed to reach the 5 Durand Cup finals and won 3 of them.
- In 1952, the Indian football team took part in the Olympic Games in Finland. India faced a massive defeat from Yugoslavia by 10-1 which was primarily due to the fact that the Indian team played without boots. When India came back, the AIFF announced that players have to wear boots while playing for India.
- After a humiliating exit at the Olympics due to the boots fiasco, Rahim took inspiration from Hungary’s aggressive 4-2-4 formation and changed the formation of the state team from centre-half to ‘W-formation’. Initially, this decision was not taken very well but not everyone understood Rahim’s motive behind it. However, this decision paid off when India beat their arch-rivals Pakistan in the Quadrangular Tournament at Dhaka in 1952.
- At the 1954 Asian Games, India was knocked out in the group stage. However, Rahim’s motivation and faith in his team came to rescue and as a result, India stunned everyone as they beat the host Australia in the quarters and managed to finish 4th in the event.
- At the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Indian team was placed in the group of death with Hungary, France, and Peru. They lost to both Hungary and Peru by 2-1, and 3-1 respectively, but managed to get a draw with France by 1-1.
- The achievement of winning a gold at the 1962 Asian Games was not a walk of roses for the Indian team. To add to the difficulty, most of the Indian athletes had to fly back to India because of various global political reasons. Indian players had lost hope but Rahim fulfilled his role as a coach and took the team to the streets of Jakarta and said, “Kal aap logon se mujhe ek tohfa chahiye….kal aap sona jitlo,” which means, “I want a gift from you tomorrow….the gold medal.” Such strong words changed the outlook of the team completely and the Indian team surprised the South Korean team in the finals by playing the injured Jarnail Singh as a striker who used to play as a centre-forward in his college days. Rahim’s risk paid off when Jarnail put India 2-0 ahead before halftime. The Indian defense was strong and South Korea scored only one goal in the second half. Thus, India went on to create history by winning the Asian Games gold by 2-1, the pinnacle of Indian football.
- India’s undying spirit at 1960 Rome Olympics, surprised everyone and they soon became one of the favourites to win the gold at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta. India didn’t get a good start to the tournament; as they lost to South Korea by 2-1, but India managed to fight back with a 2-0 win over Japan in the very next game. In the final group game, India beat Thailand by 4-1 and progressed to the next stage.
- Thanks to his coaching, the year 1945 to 1965 are considered as the “Golden Era of Hyderabad Football” and the year 1951 and 1962 was considered as the “Golden Era of Indian Football.”
- Ajay Devgn is set to play Syed Abdul Rahim in the sports biopic which is to be produced by Boney Kapoor and directed by ad film director Amit Sharma.