Brasa and his methods

Jose Brasa with Sandeep Singh-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Combining Indian style of attacking with European style of defending, according to Jose Brasa, is the way forward. The chief coach is quite determined in his mission to take India to the top. By Nandakumar Marar.

Jose Brasa’s appointment as the coach of the Indian men’s hockey team came at a time when the game in the country was open to external inputs and fresh ideas. Missing the Beijing Olympic Games after being knocked out of the qualifiers in Chile was a reality check. And at a time when Indian men’s hockey is going through troubled times, the opportunity to play against the top teams in the Hero Honda World Cup 2010 as the host is a big boon.

Nothing would come in the way of India’s preparations for the World Cup, scheduled to be held in New Delhi in March next year. And no expenditure was considered to be too high while hiring the best support staff. Thus, Brasa took charge as the coach of the National team.

The Spaniard got to the point when asked about the direction Indian hockey needs to move in. “Indians play from the heart. They believe attacking in numbers is the best way,” Brasa observed during an interaction at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune. “Going into the attack without organising the defence can prove costly. It happened on the Canada tour recently.

“The Indian teams, after taking the lead, think the match is over and let in goals towards the closing stages,” he said.

According to Brasa, the Indian style of attack combined with the European style of defence is the way forward. “The main area I am working on is defence; trying to organise it. The players will thus have the freedom to attack with a lot of creativity,” he said.

In order to be efficient in the ‘Indian attack-European defence’ style of play the mental and physical conditioning of the players is critical. “By mental conditioning I mean changing the mind-set of the players. The Indian teams are known to think the match is over once the lead is attained. I learnt from coaches here that this had happened against Pakistan in the past when India took the lead and instead of winning actually ended up losing. The players require physical conditioning to defend, to get behind the ball before moving into the rival half.”

India’s newly-appointed chief coach stressed on the need to have a sports psychologist at training camps to work on the mental conditioning of the players. “I believe in working on individual players, so the psychologist also should be someone in line with my thinking. He should be present during the team’s preparations,” Brasa said.

The coach has already identified the person for the job. He is Enerko Larumbe of Spain. The Indian hockey authorities have to follow it up.

The Indian hockey team’s tour of Europe and Canada gave Brasa the opportunity to try out different players in certain positions and also assess the players’ response in match situations. “In European clubs, players are taught to adapt to a system. I hope to bring about a similar thinking here, so that we have a vast pool of players to choose from,” the coach said.

In each of the matches against Canada, India played with a different team, Brasa pointed out. “We won almost all matches with a new combination each time, and it is a positive development looking at my future plans for the team,” the Spaniard explained.

The chief coach is impressed with the team of players given to him. When asked if any of the Indian men’s probables would fit into European club hockey, Brasa replied that most of them were good enough to play in the European leagues. “Even now I get emails from European clubs asking for Indian players fitting specific requirements. A majority of the emails I get are from Spanish clubs, but since the players are part of the core group for next year’s Commonwealth Games, it would be wrong to suggest names at this stage,” he said.

The Champions Challenge in Salta will be the first major test for Brasa and his players, followed by the Hero Honda World Cup and the Commonwealth Games next year. “The players will give off their best; the real test is for me,” said Brasa, who is the second European coach to be associated with Indian men’s hockey.

Germany’s Gerhard Rach was the first to test these waters and he went out after India finished seventh at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The German’s tenure was marred by his differences with the key Indian players. Brasa though seems determined in his mission. “My aim is to take India into the world’s top four by 2010,” said Brasa, who is aware of the fact that his efforts to change the way India plays hockey have ruffled a few feathers.

* * * Unenviable job, no doubt

Indian hockey has never had a uniform coaching structure or system, right from the club and state level to the National level. Players have worked to the top training under various coaches in club/institution/state teams. Now, the chief coach of the Indian team, Jose Brasa of Spain, is telling his players to unlearn what was taught to them in their formative years and learn to play hockey his way.

The FIH Master Coach has had to work with a pool of such diverse players — each one is on a different wavelength due to his upbringing — that setting up a standard set of instructions that could be understood by all is an impossible task. The Spaniard needs time to understand the existing coaching structures in the country and put in place people who will teach his way of playing the game. In this way, Brasa hopes that the National players would form the apex of a pyramid rather than the other way round where a coach at the National camp is supposed to be the starting point of a change. Earlier, Australian legend Ric Charlesworth, handpicked by the FIH to overhaul Indian hockey, worked on the task but went back frustrated following his differences with the Indian authorities even before his observations and suggestions could be implemented.

Former India coaches Cedric D’Souza and Joaquim Carvalho realised the need for uniformity in coaching, but after their tenures ended their efforts were not carried forward by the others.

Brasa is facing stiff resistance from some of the established Indian internationals as he is seen to be thrusting European hockey concepts down their throats at the National camps and during foreign tours without even thinking of the adverse effects such experimentations would have on the players’ confidence, especially in the run-up to the 2010 Hero Honda World Cup.

Fixing a time frame, like the Champions Challenge in December this year, to assess whether the coach and the players are pulling in the same direction is unrealistic. Experienced internationals need space and time to modify their game without having to worry about their fluctuating form. Similarly, the coach also needs space and time to perform without having to bother about the fate of his contract even if his short-term performances don’t match up to the expectations.

Like Charlesworth before him, Brasa is part of the FIH efforts to assist Indian hockey in regaining its place among the world’s elite. After more than a decade of struggle at the international level, Indian hockey has to decide whether we need foreign expertise to coach our coaches and train our players.