Chettri back to where he belongs

It may have been five years since he led the Indian team at the Olympic Games and was subsequently dropped, but Bharat Chettri insists he has never been out of touch with hockey.

Bharat Chettri’s arrival last week, as goalkeeping coach to the senior men's team, marked a full-time return to the set-up.   -  AFP

It may have been five years since he led the Indian team at the Olympic Games and was subsequently dropped, but Bharat Chettri insists he has never been out of touch with hockey. “I’ve been playing for my departmental team (Canara Bank). I played in the Hockey India League. Last year, I assisted with two National camps here. Last month I went to Bhopal for two weeks to help the Junior girls out. So I've always been involved,” he says at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus here.

Yet for all that, Chettri’s arrival last week, as goalkeeping coach to the senior men's team, marked a full-time return to the set-up. “It feels good,” he says. “As former players, it is your duty to give back to the game. I want to help in any way I can.”

P.R. Sreejesh went to the London Olympics as back-up to Chettri in goal before eventually taking over from the latter. The two may have been rivals for the same position once, but they have always been good friends, Chettri states. “I’ve known him since his junior days. He has come a long way. He's among the three or four best 'keepers in the world. But when you've been playing for many years you get used to certain things. So there is a need to polish a few things,” he says.

“If he has any problems, he asks me and I help out. We sit and discuss ideas. We also discuss how to train the youngsters. Take, for example Suraj Karkera (who has been named in the Indian team for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup). His positioning, communication, and confidence level — all that is very good. We discuss how to train him. He will improve quickly.”

Hockey is not the only sport Chettri has been playing. Over the last few years, he has turned out for the BDFA ‘C’ division football club Konkan FC. “Football is my first love. That was the sport I first began playing as a child," he says. "So I still play whenever I have the time. I play mostly as a forward. Sunil Chhetri is a friend of mine. There are a number of hockey players in my team: Anup Antony, V.S. Vinay, the goalkeeper Kuttappa, and Hari Prasad to name a few.”

Watching from the outside, Chettri has been impressed with India's performances over the last two years. “In the build-up to the Olympics, we did well, finishing runner-up at the Champions Trophy and the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, and winning a bronze at the HWL Final,” he says. “We played well at the Olympics too. Our style of play was really good. We couldn't win a medal but we need to forget about it now. It's almost been a year already.”