Feeling at home with the players

Two together… coach Jose Brasa dances with Deepak Thakur (right) during a get-together ahead of the World Cup in New Delhi.-PTI Two together… coach Jose Brasa dances with Deepak Thakur (right) during a get-together ahead of the World Cup in New Delhi.

Jose Brasa gets talking with Nandakumar Marar on his challenging assignment as India’s coach at the World Cup, his experiences with the team and much more.

Jose Brasa took up the challenging assignment of a long-term coaching stint with the Indian team despite the feedback from Ric Charlesworth about his bitter experiences with the Indian hockey administration. Brasa was the chief coach of the Spanish women’s team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Just nine months into his contract with the Sports Authority of India, the Hero Honda World Cup comes as an opportunity to assess the Spaniard’s understanding of his tough assignment.

India’s first foreign coach at the World Cup, Brasa is facing difficulty in getting accepted as a European teacher in an Asian hockey set-up. “I do not think I am gaining acceptance, except with people close to me like the players on the National team,” he observed in an email interview.

The excerpts:

Question: Your best moment in World hockey, and why?

Answer: Watching my girls, all of them beautiful and with bright faces, coming out of the changing room with joy on way to the top of the podium. Feeling their happiness was, and still is my most emotional and unforgettable moment.

Coaching the Indian National hockey team at the World Cup is a cherished assignment, bringing with it excitement and expectations — the excitement of working with skilful players and expectations from the one-time hockey superpower. How do you view your journey so far?

It’s more than a cherished assignment, and I feel at home. I think it is the summit that any coach would dream of. At the moment, I am dreaming about my feelings, that the first match versus Pakistan is ready to start.

Apart from hockey, Indian football and Indian cricket too have foreigners as the National Coach (Bob Houghton of Ireland in football and Gary Kirsten of South Africa in cricket). Do you feel that an outsider is better placed to take critical decisions on selection, players’ fitness etc. in a team sport?

Justice and equity are elemental and basic qualities in a coach. Here, I find a lot of vested interests. Personal interests are pushed ahead of national interests.

The World Cup probables trained by you include players who have the experience of playing in European clubs, especially in Germany and the Netherlands. Players such as Sandeep Singh, Deepak Thakur, Arjun Halappa, Rajpal Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Adrian D’Souza and Dhananjay Mahadik, to name a few. Were they more receptive to your ideas?

They were, and are very receptive. The difference between them and the other players was in the extent of their interest. Now the young players coming from the junior teams seem to be attracted to the new coaching methods.

There were reports about you teaching the basics of the game to the players at the National camps. Experienced internationals were, supposedly, taught by you how to hold a hockey stick. What is your viewpoint? If the reports are true, have you got past the basics phase?

To answer the first part of your question, we should ask ourselves why the top Indian players get into the National team without knowing the elementary and basic details of hockey techniques?

There’s time for basic techniques in the planning phase. Now is not the time for the basics.

Diversity is one of the fascinating aspects of Indian culture, but it can also make work tougher in a team sport like hockey. What’s your solution?

The solution is in adapting modern hockey to the culture. When I first took charge, the players were clustered into groups, both on and off the field. Maybe this was due to the difference in culture and language. So with the help of Indian coaches, we decided to improve the interaction between the players. A player from north would be put in a room with a player from south. We had to be careful in choosing the right pair. For example, a player from north should be able to get along well with a player from south and vice-versa. We later noticed friends of the players dropping in for a chat and this led to better interaction. Now the focus has switched to results and competition. So, players can choose partners with whom they are comfortable.

Being a professional coach attached to the Indian men’s squad, is it an awkward experience working with honorary assistant coaches and honorary players? You are paid in dollars or euros, while assistant coaches and players get only daily allowances for attending camps and playing in tournaments?

It is not difficult to work with them because self-motivation is very high. They are very, very proud of being a part of the Indian National team. It is obvious in modern hockey that coaches and players must be paid. I think that this situation would change soon, once Hockey India becomes a permanent body.

Name the most impressive players among the Indian probables you have worked with?

I am impressed by the size of Dhananjay Mahadik’s ‘dimag’ (brains). Someday, when boarding a flight, he will be asked to pay excess luggage because of the size of his brain. I am impressed with Sandeep Singh’s power and co-ordination, Bharat Chikara’s improvement, Rajpal Singh’s speed with the ball, Prabhjot Singh’s goal sense, Sardara Singh’s skill, Arjun Halappa’s cleverness, Vikram Pillay’s running, Deepak Thakur’s determination, Tushar Khandekar’s generosity and Adrian D’Souza’s impossible saves. I am also impressed with the hunger of Mandeep Singh and other juniors to learn.