‘I like to be aggressive on the field’

Ambition drives Santiago Freixa Escude. “A big challenge is always around the corner, and one needs to be always sharp for the international tournaments that are all too frequent,” says the Spanish centre-forward to A. Joseph Antony.

For the 2008 Beijing Olympics runner-up Spain, no attack would be complete without Santiago Freixa Escude. Amazing feats in hockey set apart the two-time European and FIH (International Hockey Federation) Junior Player of the Year, 2004. Freixa, along with Spanish team-mate Andreu Enrich, founded ‘Stick for India’, an international initiative to promote hockey in developing nations.

The classical centre-forward, who was recently at the Rural Development Trust (RDT) Hockey Academy in Anantapur, spoke exclusively to Sportstar.

The excerpts:

Question: Even after being capped over 150 times, how do you infuse freshness in Spain’s attack?

Answer: To date, I’ve played 155 times. Combining with Pol Amat and Edi Tubau makes our attack not only unpredictable and effective, but to many, even attractive. More than strategy, it’s the understanding between us that takes us goal-ward.

You’ve been there and seen it all. Doesn’t boredom set in while playing hockey from September to May in the Dutch League?

The variation in levels of play, ranging from the domestic to the international, ensures there’s something new all the time. There are off-seasons too. Victory at any level is a heady feeling. Once you taste it, you want more of it and that’s what keeps me going.

What made you choose the Dutch League?

I’ve been with the Amsterdam Hockey and Bandy Club (AHBC) for two years and am going back for a third. It’s the most competitive league in the world, a blend of leading talent from Australia, Pakistan, Germany, Argentina, New Zealand and Spain. The hosts, the Dutch, are no less dangerous themselves.

How have you gained professionally by playing in Holland?

From playing the game on an established and routine pattern, I’ve realised there is not one but various ways to play hockey. The approaches are vastly different as are the viewpoints on tactics. The diversity of the action has made it an enriching experience.

What impressions have Team Amsterdam left on you?

I began with a knee injury. Instead of complaining, the club provided me physiotherapy, never rushing me through rehabilitation that lasted three months. Coach Sjoerd Marije and Assistant Coach Tico van der Hornet supported me immensely through those tough times.

How do see yourself on the field and off it?

I see myself not as a pessimist or an optimist, but a realist, trying to see things objectively and making good things better. On the field, I like to be aggressive.

Where did you get your hockey influences from?

Hockey’s in my genes, four of my uncles being Olympians, one of them, Xavi Escude, a member of Spain’s silver-winning squad at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. My grandfather founded Atletic Terrassa, one of Spain’s leading hockey clubs.

Any mentors, godfathers?

There are many who’ve helped me grow, but to name a few, our former coach Maurits Hendrix, our current and former Terrassa coach Dani Martin, Juan Malgosa, my parents and uncles.

Your outlook on life?

I try to strike a balance, between hockey — my top priority — my studies in business management and preparation for a career outside the sport. I have no clear-cut plans for the future, but will seek fulfilment in whatever I take up.

How do you drive yourself?

My ambition drives me. A big challenge is always around the corner and one needs to be always sharp for the international tournaments that are all too frequent.

How do you recharge yourself?

I unwind with friends after the tensions of training and competition.

Have you modelled your game on any player? Any role model?

I observe players, from kids to women and internationals. The key to learning is to keep an open mind.

Any catch-line or punch-line that motivates you or drives your game?

Give and go. Only then will you receive passes and at crucial moments. The team’s cause can be furthered this way.

What are the influences that have affected your career/life?

My family background, upbringing, values and principles have had their bearing on my life and career.

Most memorable, frustrating and embarrassing moments in your career/life?

Clinching silver in the Beijing Olympics was memorable and disappointing. It was a case of so near and yet so far.

What is the role of Mauritz Henriks in the revival of Spain’s fortunes?

He brought Spain to the top-four in the world. Over the past few years, Spain has had mostly podium finishes. He filled up the gaps in mental strength, discipline and tactics.