Fuerste: ‘Give Indian youngsters time to progress’

“I said this five years ago in my first HIL season here and I will say it again—the one thing I really don't like is the way the whole country, including the media, puts too much pressure on the Indian players, specially the younger players. Someone plays good hockey, like Dipsan Tirkey is playing or Harmanpreet Singh is or Mandeep Singh did five years ago, when he was the joint top-scorer in the HIL at 16-17 years, every day he is questioned about everything, specially when he has a bad game. Yeah, so what?” Fuerste said.

Moritz Fuerste says India has the potential to be in the top-three.   -  Photo: Getty Images

 

With three Olympic medals in as many outings in his 12-year long international career—two of them gold and 10 of those years as captain—Moritz Fuerste has won all that is there to be won in international hockey.

Having announced his international retirement immediately after finishing the Rio Olympics with a bronze, Fuerste came without the baggage of pressure for the fifth season of the Hockey India League and ended up lifting the title on Sunday with Kalinga Lancers, who had splurged $105,000 on him last year.

He’s also led the Hamburg-based Uhlenhorster Hockey Club to the European league title thrice. And so, when a man with his credentials warns people to lay off youngsters in India, one is bound to take him seriously.

“I said this five years ago in my first HIL season here and I will say it again—the one thing I really don't like is the way the whole country, including the media, puts too much pressure on the Indian players, specially the younger players. Someone plays good hockey, like Dipsan Tirkey is playing or Harmanpreet Singh is or Mandeep Singh did five years ago, when he was the joint top-scorer in the HIL at 16-17 years, every day he is questioned about everything, specially when he has a bad game. Yeah, so what?” Fuerste said, making his displeasure clear.

Admitting that the Indian players were under far more pressure to perform and under scrutiny all the time than in any other country, Fuerste seemed intent on letting out all his frustration out with the tournament being over. After all, he had been asked this question about ‘talented Indian youngsters’ at virtually every press meet since the HIL began.

“As an international player for more than 12 years, you think more than 50 percent of my games were good games? Definitely not. It is very difficult to play good, consistent hockey when you are 17 or 21 years old. What I dislike is that everyone around, including you guys, is not giving those young players enough time to progress. Show me one international player of the same age as Dipsan Tirkey playing at the top level in the world—there is none! Once they are in their mid-20s they can be there. I am seeing a lot of players who can be among the top international hockey players in five years but they need the time,” he added.

Insisting that winning titles and developing as a top-class player were two different achievements and not always in sync with each other, Fuerste also had a word of caution. “It’s not only about titles, you know. It’s great that they won the Junior World Cup but that doesn't necessarily mean it will make them part of the senior team or world champions in senior hockey in a couple of years. Even if they don't finish in top-5, it's ok! They will be there and India will be in the top-3 in the next 10 years, I promise you, but give them time,” he reiterated.

Given his brilliant form and leadership throughout the HIL, the question of a possible return to international hockey invariably cropped up and Fuerste, while not denying it outright, refused to commit himself either way. “You gotta talk to the coach, may be he likes the older players now! You never know, to be honest but I am 32 years old with a daughter and wife, another daughter coming up and I want to spend some time with my family now after 12 years on the road. Whenever 2018 approaches, I will think about it,” he laughed off.

On a lighter note, asked about facing off against team-mate Florian Fuchs in the final of the HIL—Fuchs led runner-up Dabang Mumbai—the former German captain quipped, “I have always been Florian’s captain and I am sure he must be very happy to have had a chance to shake my hand today.”