Some quiet after all the rush

Hans Mulder of Delhi Dynamosis ecstatic after scoring against Mumbai FC. Mulder plays an all-round role for his team.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Hans Mulder has survived and survived well amidst the noise that surrounded the inaugural ISL. There would be more delirium in the coming weeks, months and years but the calm environs of Almere, his hometown in the Netherlands, will keep him steady, writes Priyansh.

“Football life is very busy. So, I go to my home in Almere. I can hear the birds there and go fishing.” A sense of calm pervades Hans Mulder’s life when he’s home. Away from the hubbub of tourists’ favourite Amsterdam, the 27-year-old prefers to spend his time in this municipality built on reclaimed land from the artificial lake Ijsselmeer.

Once the inaugural Hero Indian Super League finished, Mulder returned home immediately. This time, one feels, his yearning for a return to home must have been stronger. Playing in front of crowds that exceeded his expectations by miles could have been unnerving.

But Mulder enjoyed it. Whenever the ball would go out for a corner or throw-in, he would look around the stadium and just admire the sheer number that had turned up to watch him and others play. Secretly, he had even hoped for it before the ISL began.

The atmosphere at every venue amazed Mulder, but encounters against a particular side stand out — Northeast United FC.

When he played at his home stadium in Delhi, the visiting fans made such a racket that Mulder joked to team-mate Bruno Arias at halftime, “Are we playing home or away?”

Later in the season, when Delhi Dynamos visited NUFC, he saw the other side of those vociferous fans. “They cheered for us when we were warming up. That’s a great atmosphere. They just want to see a good football match and enjoy.”

The noise still remained. All around him, engulfing him from every angle. But Mulder remained calm, much like Almere. There has been the occasional chirping with goals, but mostly you would find him trotting up and down the pitch. Laying a ball here, winning the ball there. Nothing that would make you delirious. Dare one say it — be careful, or you will miss him.

Opposition managers must have delivered the same advice to their players. For Hans Mulder embodies his manager Harm van Veldhoven’s vision. Win the ball, pass it from the back, move it swiftly and get it to the forwards. At each of the four stages, Mulder gets involved. It comes naturally to him. “Coaches in Holland say you play in the midfield. You don’t play as a defensive midfielder; you don’t play on the right or the left of the midfield. I can swap positions with my team-mates. I’m not an attacking or defensive midfielder. I try to be wherever I can help my team-mates.”

According to Mulder and as witnessed through the season, this is what Van Veldhoven wanted too.

“Coach wants to play like the Dutch sides. We don’t want to kick and rush. We want play through the midfield. In Holland, I did the same. We didn’t try to kick the ball directly to the forwards.

“When I started playing at the age of seven in Holland, my coach used to teach me I had to know where the ball was to go before I get it. So, I always had to think two steps ahead. He taught me very well.”

Delhi coach Harm Van Veldhoven's (above) playing philosophy was followed to the letter by Mulder, who took even practice sessions seriously (below).-RAJEEV BHATT

On the evidence of his displays in India, you wouldn’t disagree with Mulder. But his style of play was not influenced by his Dutch origins alone. Mulder had a Spanish mother and he was a part of the youth system at Real Zaragoza.

“In Spain, it’s more technical. Play, play, play. You know, like Barcelona. So my style is a combination of thinking very fast and working hard which they teach in Holland and technical ability learnt in Spain.”

Mulder, unsurprisingly, speaks fluent Spanish too. This helped him develop a successful partnership with Bruno Arias in the Dynamos midfield.

“I can speak to him in my language. We play the same way. We like to play combination football so we understand each other. Bruno is a great player with a lot of qualities. He’s one of our best midfielders. That’s why it’s easier to play with him.”

Yet, it wasn’t easy to develop such an understanding in the first place. When Mulder arrived in India, he could play no longer than the first half.

“Pre-season was very hard. When we arrived at the airport, it was night but we could feel the heat. In the first training session, I was sweating a lot. Later in the friendly matches, I was done in 40-50 minutes. I got very tired. I got cramps.”

The challenge of adjusting to Indian team-mates posed different and unique scenarios.

“At the start of the season, nine of the 10 crosses were too hard, too low or too short. Now (towards the end of the ISL season) you see seven out of 10 are perfect. Our Indian players can play in different positions which made the trainer’s (Van Veldhoven) job easier. The players listen very well and they learnt by watching.”

RITU RAJ KONWAR

An opportunity to learn and grow is necessary for Mulder too. He’s 27 and his displays in the ISL would have convinced many that he would excel in more competitive leagues as well. Injuries and his father’s untimely death diverted Mulder to India but will he be present for the ISL’s second season?

“I tell my agent not to call me until the ISL is over. If he tells me that a club is interested, my mind won’t be there. When the last game is finished, we discuss our next step.”

The next destination may not necessarily be his home country, Holland.

“Five years ago clubs in Holland were spending more on buying players. They are not taking risks now.”

Even if they don’t, Mulder will be welcomed with open arms in Delhi. While growing up at the Amsterdam-based club Zeeburgia, he was fortunate to be under the tutelage of Mike Kolf. Mulder gladly admits that the coach made him the person he is today. Among other things, the Dynamos midfielder learnt how to survive in the world.

Mulder has survived and survived well amidst the noise that surrounded the inaugural ISL. There would be more delirium in the coming weeks, months and years but the calm environs of Almere will keep him steady.