We all love football, but a few live football. For them, it's not just a game but the life itself. Their commitment to the beautiful game can't be described in simple words. Nothing can stop their unconditional love for the game, not even a broken hand with six surgeries and a cancelled honeymoon trip to the Maldives.
Meet Mandar Tamhane, the man who has had a successful spell as team manager of India's national football team. Tamhane, who works in the automobile sector is not just a mechanical engineer, but also an able football administrator. He currently works as the chief technical officer at Indian Super League side Bengaluru FC.
Having a family run automobile business – called Bombay Cycle & Motor Agency Ltd – in the western Indian city of Pune, Tamhane had the opportunity to learn and get his hands dirty in the workshop from a very young age. But at the same time, he also made sure that he pursued his dream of playing the sport he loved as he participated in competitive football since his school days.
"Since my childhood, I used to love going to the workshop and gets my hands dirty," Tamhane told IBTimes UK.
"For me, it was important that if I have to run a workshop, where there are 70 to 80 employees or a dealership where there are 200 employees working, then nobody should be taking me for a ride when they are trying to explain the practical working of the vehicle.
"That's when I thought I should work in the workshop. I always had a passion for automobiles, apart from football."
When Tamhane went to pursue higher education, he represented ELSA (Ex-Loyola Students Association). He played in the first division in the local league in Pune, which is where he got his first experience in administration.
"I got involved a lot when I started to manage. I used to call people for the games, arranging their jerseys and do all the things that were necessary to run a small club. That went on for three to four years," Tamhane said.
"ELSA only had football, while no other activities were taking place like how other alumni should function. After ELSA was dissolved, I moved to Deccan XI, which is still the top club in Pune."
When it comes to football administration in India, the internal infighting in the governing bodies has been a common occurrence at the grassroots level. Tamhane had to deal with these situations and also played a role in settling the issue after an incident brought an abrupt end to his playing career.
"Pune had two associations because of the infighting, which is common in India for football at a grassroots level. When my club is not given preference, then I will jump to the other association," he said.
"After my marriage, the honeymoon was planned in the Maldives. We had a match under the light and they said why don't you come and play, just hours before we were expected to travel."
"My then-teammate, who is now an assistant coach at Bengaluru FC's reserve team, went to head the ball. There was no call and then he saw me going for the ball. I fell over him and my hand came under the body and my hand broke and bone came out from here. I underwent six surgeries and now have two rods inserted in my hand. That ended my playing career."
"While I was recovering, our team wanted to move to the other association. Most of the good teams from our association had jumped to the other association. We were playing against weaker teams and it was no longer fun. So we said, if we move there, everybody will come together and form one association."
"Since I had a broken hand, the meeting took place at my residence. I led the meeting and they were more than happy to merge two associations and make it into once association in Pune."
Tamhane's first job was to get everyone under one roof and work together for a common goal. He got the support of local politician Patangrao Kadam, who founded a group of educational institutions across India called Bharati Vidyapeeth. When Kadam's son, Vishwajeet was made the president of the new association, a district football tournament named Abhijeet Kadam Football Cup was organised to honour Vishwajeet's late brother.
Tamhane played a big role in helping the tournament grow into a national level tournament over a period of six years from 2003 to 2008. "That's where I met the right people from football," Tamhane said.
Tamhane explains he was keen on improving the quality of football. And for this, he persuaded Vishwajeet's family to make sure that those university students who fail to make it to professional football be given an opportunity to pursue a career in the field of sports.
"Refereeing, sports science, and turf technology were the three courses that were identified and these were also accepted by Vishwajeet and his family," says Tamhane. And as a part of this, at the age of 24, he travelled to the United Kingdom, where he met with Everton and Bolton Wanderers. These clubs were successful in having a partnership with the universities in the country and received help from the Football Association (FA) with regards to refereeing.
Through one of Tamhane's connection, he managed to have a meeting with Liverpool's former chief executive Rick Parry. Tamhane and his team had the challenge to make the presentation in 15 minutes because that was the time allocated to them by Parry. But eventually, they ended up discussing for over two-and-a-half hours with Liverpool's then CEO.
"Liverpool came on board as our partner and we achieved it without spending a single dime," Tamhane stressed. The European experience helped him a lot and in the process, ended up making a lot of connections, which then helped him later in his career.
In the final years of the Abhijeet Kadam Football tournament, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) officials were also invited. There Tamhane met with AIFF general secretary Alberto Colaco. He said Colaco was surprised to see the state of art stadium was used for the tournament.
Colaco even sent the then India Under-23 coach Sukhwinder Singh to visit the facility to see if the national team's senior side's camp can be conducted in Pune. As finance was a major factor for the AIFF then, Tamhane coordinated with Singh and made sure the team got a good deal in regards to their accommodations during the camp. AIFF had to splurge 50% less when it came to spending on accommodations.
The one thing that stands out among all these activities is that Tamhane did not earn a single penny while working on football-related activities. It requires a lot of effort and time to execute these things and the experience he earned during this period has been vital in the different roles at the top level.
Tamhane'sinvolvement with the logistics of the senior team saw him become the local manager for the national team. Singh was impressed with his work and suggested Colaco that Tamhane should be made the India Under-23's team manager. His first job was a trip to Sri Lanka.
Personal differences between the national team's then senior coach and the then team manager after the Asian Cup in 2010 saw Tamhane getting the opportunity to become India's team manager, which he accepted following his stint with the Under-23s.
Tamhane's desire to start a local tournament at a grassroots level in the early 2000s has helped him reach the top. He says the experience "is something which I feel has thought me a lot as far as football administration is concerned."
"In terms of how players think, how coaches think. What players need during a match. These are the basics things you learn a lot."
One needs to remember here that Tamhane does not hold any degree in football industry or even in sports management. However, his love for the game and investing time and effort, without expecting anything in return in terms of remuneration has helped him become one of the well-respected and efficient football administrators in India.
Tamhane believes the players are a club's asset. "At the end of the day, players are your asset and you need to protect your assets. If you go with that attitude, there will be no problem anywhere in your life. That's what my experience has been," he stressed.
What is most impressing about Tamhane is his photographic memory as he remembers every minute detail of the events that took place more than a decade ago. He explained things like it was happening then and there.
(The second part of the interview will be published in the second week of January, where Mandar Tamhane discusses about his joining in Bengaluru FC and also how he helped the club complete the signing of Sunil Chettri and Ashley Westwood for their debut season.)