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'Indian hockey is all about the individual'

January 19, 2010 08:45 IST

Jose BrasaHe is at the helm of affairs with the Indian hockey team for less than a year -- having been appointed last May -- but he has already witnessed two major crises.

In November, the decision to appoint Rajpal Singh as the captain, ahead of the Champions Challenge tournament in Argentina, didn't go down well with the outgoing skipper Sandeep Singh. If reports are to be believed Sandeep, along with a few senior players, made his displeasure clear and was on the verge of a revolt till the authorities intervened -- something both the parties concerned since vehemently denied.

And just a few weeks before the World Cup, which New Delhi is hosting, came the payment row between Hockey Indian (the governing body) and the players, who were so unhappy over the non-payment of their dues and incentives that they stalled practice, boycotted the camp before their demands were eventually addressed.

Amidst all this, there was criticism from certain quarters regarding the coach's tactics, his manner of working, his handling of players and even his credentials as a coach -- post the gold medal win with the Spanish women's team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. 

However, Jose Manuel Brasa remains stoic, circumspect and persevering, continuing with the team's preparation for the upcoming event.

As the Indian hockey set-up returns to normal, the 55-year-old Spaniard talks exclusively to Special Correspondent Bikash Mohapatra on the various controversies, India's chances at the upcoming World Cup and his only 'realistic' target. Excerpts:

To start with, the obvious question: are you relieved that the players' crisis is finally over?

Yes, it feels great.

The players are back to training. We are starting anew our preparations for the World Cup and we are looking ahead to doing well in the tournament.

Considering it has happened just weeks before the World Cup, do you think it can have a negative impact and affect the performance of the team?

I think it is a positive thing to have happened. The team is now united because of this issue and motivated to do well.

Also, during all this controversy, the people of this country rallied behind the team. The players had no money, no support from the authorities and no assurances whatsoever, but they had their fans backing them during that period. And this is something that can only happen in a country like India.

Jose BrasaYour tenure as coach isn't even a year old and there has already been a few major controversies. First, the captaincy issue, and now this row between Hockey India and the striking players. Looking back, how would you assess these controversies?

As regards the first part of your question, I have always said one should not bother much about captaincy. It is a position that doesn't matter much in a sport like hockey.

On the contrary, captaincy gets into the head of a player and affects his performance to a considerable extent.

Besides, any controversy attracts unnecessary media attention, which in turn is not always good.

About this particular controversy, the players had certain issues with the authority, which I think were valid, and the authorities have agreed to look into them.

So the team can also start afresh and look to do well in the future.

Having worked for some time in this country now, what do you think ails Indian hockey despite having such a rich history? 

In India, there are two basic problems as regards hockey. First is the lack of artificial playing surfaces (astro turfs). There are about 20-odd artificial pitches in India, while in a country like Holland, which is maybe as much as the size of Goa, there is more than 450.

Consequently, when the players who have honed their skills on other surfaces come to play on these turfs they struggle to adapt.

Secondly, in Indian hockey is all about the individual, his skills and his talent. But in a country like Germany, or anywhere in Europe for that matter, the emphasis is not on an individual but on the team as a whole.

When the focus shifts to an individual the team suffers and that has been the case with the Indian team in recent years.

On a realistic note, what are India's chances in the upcoming World Cup?

Realistically speaking, we don't have a chance. We are the 12th-ranked team in the world -- the worst ranking among the top teams playing in the World Cup -- and shouldn't expect much from the tournament.

But since we are hosting the event, we have got to try and do as well as possible.

In that case, what are your expectations from this team?

If I am allowed to be realistic again, a top eight finish should be a good result for us. And a fifth position would be a great one.

As regards progressing further, we have to see how the other teams are doing once the tournament starts. If some results do go in our favour, we can work towards going further ahead, maybe the semi-finals, who knows?

Since you don't expect much from the World Cup, what are your targets with this team?

My prime aim is to help this Indian team qualify for the London Olympics in 2012.

(The Indian hockey team had failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the first time the eight-time gold winners were missing at the quadrennial Games.)

And for that purpose, I have targeted winning the gold medal at the Asian Games this year. For, if we do well at Guangzhou, we can automatically seal our berth in the Olympics. (Brasa's current contract runs till the end of the Asian Games in November)

There have been a few good results in the last six months or so but that is certainly not enough. It will take more time to achieve better and consistent results in the long run.

Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra