Arthur Papas wasn't prepared to wait his turn to become a head coach.
"It's a risk but maybe it's one I have to take," this is the response one of Australia's most outstanding young coaches gives when quizzed on why he would trade the A-League for the cricket obsessed subcontinent of India.
It hardly seems like the most obvious choice but Arthur Papas is not one to follow established conventions. A quick glance at his coaching CV and you soon realise that chances are he knows exactly what he doing in taking charge of India's under 23 side.
Unlike most of the new generation of Australian coaches Papas has no real playing pedigree, he spent the majority of his playing days in the Victorian Premier League before he decided to call it a day at just 25 to focus on coaching. Hanging up your boots in your mid twenties may surprise most but for those who know the 32-year-old it is unlikely they were caught off guard.
"I have always been obsessed by football, I was playing championship manager when I was 12 trying to buy and sell every player under the sun and coming-up with some of the most ridiculous tactics you have ever seen."
Fuelled by the belief that there was more out there and that his own football education was lacking he enrolled in his first coaching course at 16. At 25 he set his sights on the Australian Institute of Sport Coaching Scholarship.
"I rang up and got through to the head coach at the time and said listen I'm 25 I am going back to Uni and I have researched a lot what do I have to do to get the AIS coaching scholarship. He asked where did I play and I said I had only played in the state league and he said if you have not played for the Socceroos or got close you have no chance of ever becoming the AIS scholarship coach."
Unperturbed he set about doing everything possible to gain that scholarship. He studied the world's best coaches and quickly learned that many had gone to extraordinary lengths to learn their craft. So Papas did too.
He completed a degree in Sports Science and is currently in the final stages of a Masters in Sports Coaching. He got experience as an assistant in the VPL, he coached junior state teams "if I had to work 70 hours a week I worked 80," the Melbournian said.
His hard work paid off and he was awarded the AIS Scholarship, however grabbing the attention of the powers that be was far from straightforward. Whilst undertaking his AFC B Licence he snapped his Patella tendon and was unable to complete the course and was refunded his fee. Eager to continue his education he enrolled in a Dutch KNVB run youth training course.
"At the end of the course the instructors said to me we have been really happy with what we have seen from you and we have put your name forward to Rob Baan (former Australian Technical Director) telling him that there is someone in the Australian system that he doesn't know about."
After being contacted by Baan, Papas was asked to attend an interview, where he outlined his coaching philosophy, after which he was awarded the AIS coaching scholarship.
With his eyes opened wide by working with the man he says is the best coach he has worked with - former AIS head coach Jan Versleijen - he decided it was time to stand on his own two feet. Papas took on the job of head coach at Victorian Premier League club Oakleigh Cannons and demonstrated how capable he is by guiding them to the grand final and being awarded coach of the year in 2011.
From there he progressed to Melbourne Heart as the assistant to Youth Team Coach John Aloisi before moving to Newcastle Jets where he was first team assistant and Youth Team Coach for the 2011-2012 season. While being grateful for the opportunity at Heart and the Jets Papas said they were not totally fulfilling and that it was time to move on.
"I just want to be a head coach now and to be honest and I don't think I should have to wait another five-six years to sit in line because you have to be 38, you have to have had this many appearances, you have to have stayed with the club for so long before you are considered ready to be a head coach."
It is this eagerness that has led Papas to India but he also sees it as an opportunity to improve as a coach.
"On June 23 I coach my first game against Lebanon in the AFC Cup, then we play Iraq, we play UAE (United Arab Emirates), we play Oman and no one can tell me that is not a great experience for a coach."
There is also the matter of teaming up with Rob Baan, who is now the India Technical Director, in a country that is pouring vast resources into football. FIFA are eager to tap into what could be a huge market for the sport and have joined up with Dutch club PSV Eindhoven to establish a high performance squad for the country's most talented young players.
It is this link to Europe that Papas hopes could help him fulfil his dream.
"I want to coach in Europe and from the A-League that is pretty much impossible but maybe India can be a stepping stone to unlocking some doors for me by getting international experience."
His success may have surprised many but perhaps that says more about the coaching environment that is still present in Australia than it says about Papas himself. If he had a playing career to back up his qualifications and experience it is likely he would already be an A-League head coach, rather than having to go abroad to get the top job. The coaching revolution in Australia has made great strides, which Papas is proof of, but it still has some way to go to break free from outdated stereotypes.
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