Quartz is all set for its maiden foray

Harald Braner and his son Frank Braner are helping out Quartz Soccer Club.-K. RAMESH BABU

Since July last, Quartz Soccer Club has been training at the institution's football ground under the watchful eyes of UEFA ‘B' Licence coach Frank Braner. The German is but one of the many plus points for the side, which has its headquarters in Kozhikode, Kerala. By A. Joseph Antony.

Arthur Lord Wellesley would have broken out in a smile were he to take a stroll through the sylvan surroundings of Sreenidhi International School at Moinabad, near Hyderabad. For the sports-friendly setting would have exemplified the cause close to his heart and the line attributed to the Iron Duke: the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.

Since July last, Quartz Soccer Club (QSC) has been training at the institution's football ground under the watchful eyes of UEFA ‘B' Licence coach Frank Braner. The German is but one of the many plus points for the side, which has its headquarters in Kozhikode, Kerala.

Set to make its maiden foray into the second division of the All India Football Federation's I-League, Quartz will gain added thrust from its Nigerian trio of Emmanuel Aja, 24, Igwe Nnaemeka 21 and Pedro Inegbeniki, 21. Till recently, the team was under the tutelage of John Shulman, who incidentally led the Harvard Law School soccer squad as a student of the hallowed centre of learning.

The 30 probables were picked mostly from QSC's academy at Gymkhana Grounds, Secunderabad, six of them from selection trials across Andhra Pradesh and another half a dozen loaned from all over India. Sharing his skills under the bar is former Indian custodian Felix Edward.

The interest shown by the English Premier League (EPL) side, Tottenham Hotspur, in an international collaboration, close to the commencement of the I-League, can be seen as a shot in the arm for Quartz, which opens its campaign in Cuttack against Guwahati Town Club on February 2.

Till now, Quartz has funded its coaching and tournament programmes all by itself. “Some NRIs (non-resident Indians) have shown interest in sponsoring our team but we are looking at a long-term arrangement, say five years, which would be mutually beneficial,” says Amitha Kommadath, a Director with QSC.

Support has come in kind, if not in cash. “Thanks to K.T. Mahi, our team has been enjoying the residential training at Sreenidhi International School from July,” she added.

The training sessions under coach Braner are a treat to behold. His hand-held high-pitch whistle toots every now and then as the players work on the famed grid pattern that Germany is famous for. At other times, they adopt a zone marking system.

“Soccer is very popular among our students and training with Quartz's players will give them invaluable exposure,” said Ssarithha Katikaneni, Executive Director, Sreenidhi International School. “Moreover, the scheme fits in with our vision of according co-curricular status to sports,” she added.

Braner brought along 10 Jabulani balls, still bearing the insignia of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. “There is no system in the Indian game,” says Braner, who has conducted coaching camps in Odisha and Kerala.

“There is so much shouting and shrieking on the field here, which can confuse players. In comparison, in Europe there is the odd exchange between the player, in whose possession the ball is and the one to whom he intends to pass it,” notes Braner.

His methods seem to be working as Quartz's young players resort to the one-touch system that calls for a faster game, better fitness, creativity and quick thinking. “While there is no dearth of talent here, it would be futile to draw comparisons with the players and systems of the sport in Europe or Germany,” says Braner.

Quartz Club coach Frank Braner during a training session with his wards.-NAGARA GOPAL

Nonetheless, Quartz, in the run-up to the I-League, played some friendly matches in Kerala and acquitted itself quite honourably, even when playing against older players and teams, well attuned to a highly active, vibrant and well-entrenched professional league.

“Indian players tend to tire in the concluding and crucial quarter hour. On the positive side, players here show far more discipline, especially when warming up. They go through the training drills quite responsibly, vital for team spirit and mutual respect,” says Braner.

“It is still to sink in here that football is a high-contact sport. The grounds here are very hard, leaving players vulnerable to injury. Infrastructure and its maintenance can be far better,” Braner points out.

The contrast is stunningly glaring at the Gymkhana Grounds in Secunderabad, where Quartz's academy players train. While several bald patches scar the football field, across the fence is a veritable green baize, home to the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA).

“As much as it's cricket here, football is religion in Germany. There are 21 associations spread out across the country. Each of them has a ground of natural grass, another with an artificial surface for training in the wet season and an indoor facility to practise when the landscape is snowbound,” says Braner.

“In Germany, the golden age is considered to be between 12 and 16 years, where players pick up the best. Children begin early though, sometimes when they are just four or five years old. It is quite a sight to see them train in oversized outfits,” he says.

Looking back he says the emphasis on youth in German football began after none of its teams figured in the 2002 UEFA championships. Today, the soccer giant can boast of fielding perhaps the youngest side in international competition.