Coach with a magic touch

Bravo boys... the Brazilian team.-PTI

Percy Oncken has groomed quite a few Brazilian teams into world champions. He, however, gives much of the credit to the system in his country. “Our professional league is very strong because the senior Brazilian players participate in it. The money is good thanks to God and our top players don’t need to go out,” says the coach who guided Brazil to back-to-back victories in the junior men’s World Championship. By Nandakumar Marar.

Being associated with volleyball in a football-crazy nation like Brazil does not faze Percy Oncken. “Football cannot be called a sport in Brazil, it is a religion. Volleyball is the number two sport and is becoming popular,” said the head coach of the Brazilian junior men’s team which won the World Championship in Pune recently.

International victories do play a significant role in the masses embracing a sport. Brazil rules the world in youth (u-19) and junior men’s (u-21) volleyball. In addition, the country has also won two gold medals in men’s volleyball at the Olympic Games.

Oncken’s optimism was quite understandable. He groomed the men’s junior squad into world champion at the 2007 junior men’s World Championship, dethroning Russia in the final in Rabat, Morocco, and giving his people a reason to celebrate. “Two players from that group (Wanderson and Tiago Barth) are now with Brazil’s senior team,” said the coach, who has been in charge of the youth team since 1991, with a sense of pride. “We will start work with a new group of youngsters after the 2009 junior men’s (World Championship).”

The Brazilian players dived on to the teraflex court in frenzied celebration after annihilating Cuba in the final of the junior men’s World Championship at the Balewadi Sports Complex. They then fell into each other’s arms in ecstasy. And after the emotions calmed down a little, the players hoisted Oncken in the air — it was their way of saying ‘thank you’ to the coach for guiding the team through nerve-wracking moments in the deciding fifth set of the final against Cuba.

“Today (August 9) is celebrated as the Father’s Day in Brazil. My team could not have given me a better gift than the world title,” exclaimed Oncken.

The head coach, who is attached to the Brazilian National Centre for Volleyball in Rio de Janeiro, first worked with the youth (u-18) national squads in 1993, winning the World Championship gold. He repeated the feat in 1995, 2001 and 2003 before taking charge of the junior men’s (U-21) team in 2006. Oncken guided Brazil to back-to-back victories in the junior men’s World Championship — in Rabat in 2007 and in Pune recently. He had also coached Brazilian clubs, Ulbra, Gremio, Consorcio Uniao, Sesi Esporte and Wizard Campinas in 2007 and 2008.

The Brazilian players who played in the junior World Championship in Pune were visiting India for the first time though they were all highly experienced in terms of exposure. “Many of the players represent clubs in the Brazilian League. Our professional league is very strong because the senior Brazilian players participate in it. We have no foreign players. They are allowed, but we don’t need them. The money is good thanks to God and our top players don’t need to go out,” Oncken said when asked if any his players were heading for European clubs.

According to Oncken, there is no bar on clubs signing up foreign players in the Brazilian League. “Long time ago, our clubs had foreign players from Cuba, Argentina, Russia, Serbia, the United States and the Netherlands. Now there is none,” he said.

The first six of the Brazilian team for the opening match against Russia in the junior World Championship were club professionals. Mauricio Silva, the number one striker, plays for Minas Tenis Clube. The main blockers, Renan Buiatti and Issac Santos, are with Banespa, while attacker Paese Cargnin plays for C. N. Araraquara. Captain Murilo Radke, the team’s setter, and libero Thales Hoss play for Ulbra.

Oncken is not sure if any of these U-21 talents will graduate to the Brazilian men’s team in the near future. “I don’t know, because at the moment our senior team players are very young. Rodrigo (Rodrigo Santana), for instance, is 29 years old,” the coach said, hinting that an outstanding performer like Mauricio will have to wait his turn.

Mauricio, named the ‘Most Valuable Player’ in Pune for his all-round performance, raised the level of his game in make-or-break situations for Brazil. Cuba and India, the only sides to stretch the defending champion to five games, found Mauricio a hard nut to crack. The powerful, spring-heeled attacker top scored in the final against Cuba (19 points, 17 spikes and two aces) and the semifinal against India (24 points, all from spikes).

Mauricio is lethal at the net, leaping for smashes from the backcourt, yet he is elegant in the way he executes them.

Renan’s spiking off short lifts is deadly. Standing 212 centimetres tall, he can spike from a height of 330cms. He reaches up to nearly 314cms when setting up a block. Renan was named the ‘best blocker’ of the tournament.

“We have strong players in the team. It is necessary to play as fast as possible. It is the style of Brazilian volleyball,” Oncken explained.

Brazil, Cuba and Argentina grabbed the first three positions in Pune. “I feel proud to see three teams from the Americas finish in the first three places. It is very good for the development of our volleyball,” said Oncken.

Asked about the Argentina-Brazil rivalry in volleyball, Oncken said: “Same like football. The competition is fierce, but we respect their work in volleyball at the youth and junior levels.”

BRAZIL’S PATH TO THE TITLE

Brazil beat Russia 3-1; beat Cuba 3-0; beat Poland 3-0; beat USA 3-1; beat Iran 3-0; beat Cuba 3-0 to make the semifinals.

Semifinals: Brazil beat India 3-2 (25-19, 17-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-9); Cuba beat Argentina 3-1 (25-19, 25-17, 24-26, 25-20).

Final: Brazil beat Cuba 3-2 (30-28, 21-25, 25-22, 23-25, 15-8).

FINAL PLACINGS

1. Brazil, 2. Cuba, 3. Argentina, 4. India, 5. Belgium, 6. Russia, 7. Iran, 8. United States, 9. Poland, 10. France, 11. China, 12. Canada, 13. Egypt, 14. Tunisia, 15. Belarus, 16. Greece.