‘We do not have coaches at the top level in India’

Jude Felix-SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA

“A hockey intelligent guy is someone who comes to training, takes what the coach has taught him and is actually able to use it on the pitch. That quality is very scarce in Indian hockey,” says Jude Felix who has been roped in to assist India’s head coach Terry Walsh. By Avinash Nair and Shreedutta Chidananda.

Hockey intelligence and professionalism were the key words, as Jude Felix, the new India hockey coach, chatted with Sportstar during a short stopover in Bangalore recently. A two-time Olympian besides featuring in two World Cups and two Asian Games, Felix, who last played for India in 1995, spoke of the various reasons that saw India slip down the rankings, and the struggle to recapture the old glory. The 49-year-old, who had a long stint as a coach in Singapore, obviously likes what he is doing. Whatever spare time he has, he spends at the Jude Felix Hockey Academy, where children from the Maria Niketan orphanage are trained all year long.

Felix, who will work under the head coach, Terry Walsh, and the Hockey India High Performance Director, Roelant Oltmans, has been put on a three-month probation, leading up to the end of the World Cup (May 31 to June 15 in The Hague).

Excerpts:

Question: Do you feel you should have coached India earlier?

Answer: The last time I played for India was in 1995. And coaching the Indian team 20 years later, I know that I could’ve definitely come much earlier and been of help. Sadly, things didn’t work out and I was busy with my overseas assignments. It’s been a wonderful three weeks that I’ve spent here and there’s so much to teach these players.

What can you teach them?

There are a lot of skills, which we Indians were known for, but have now forgotten. In fact, Australia picked up so many skills from India and mastered them back home. Playing a reverse pass is something the guys have forgotten completely. Then there’s the wrong-foot overhead pass. If you do it on the normal foot, the defender can read your intentions and close you down. It’s a difficult skill but those are skills that can beat the defence. Then there’s camouflaging a pass — pretending to pass it to one side but playing it to the other.

At this level, it’s not very difficult for them to pick it up because they’re already accomplished players. It’s just that they’ve not done it for a long time.

Recalling the forgotten skills. India's head coach Terry Walsh interacts with his players during a training session in New Delhi. Terry, according to Felix, is trying to bring in the things India were strong at, coupled with physiology, professionalism and responsibility.-SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA

But after doing it in practice, can they do it in a match?

It’s a very good point. Looking from the outside, you’ll see that the coach has done a great training session and gone home. But the player has not gone and tried what he’s done in training. Come the match, he’s not able to do it.

That’s what I call hockey intelligence. There’s a clear difference between a person who’s intelligent in academics and a person who’s hockey intelligent. A hockey intelligent guy is someone who comes to training, takes what the coach has taught him and is actually able to use it on the pitch. That quality is very scarce in Indian hockey. The coach walks halfway, but the player has to walk the other half.

Do we have enough qualified coaches?

I’ll say this categorically: we do not have coaches at the top level in India. Coaching is really vast — fitness, diet, video technology, biomechanics etc. To have a coach who knows everything and can piece the puzzle together is what is required. For a country like India, you need to have at least 30-40 coaches at the top level.

Is there a big enough pool of talent available for the national team?

Seeing the HIL, I think we’ve got a fairly good bunch of players. Where I felt we could be doing much better is in the goalkeeping sector. We need to have more quality goalkeepers. We have to work on it separately. Of the 35 players in the training group, there are 17 who are under 21. The future looks good — players like Manpreet, Akashdeep, who is amazingly talented, Satbir, and Nikin and Nitin Thimmaiah.

Our drag flickers must have impressed you…

There was a time when we played, when we could get a penalty corner anytime but we had no one to convert. Now, it’s the other way round. We’ve got guys to convert, but we need to get the penalty corners. In my time, (Mohammed) Shahid could get a penalty corner anytime we wanted. But we didn’t have flickers.

What are your expectations for the World Cup?

We are very happy with what we’ve achieved in the past. But we should just forget the past and first understand that we’ve slipped very far behind. That’s the reality of the situation. When we finished fifth in the World Cup in 1994, it was a total, utter disappointment for us. Now, some people call it fantastic and a great finish. There’s nothing to be happy about. We’ve definitely slipped very far away, going by the Olympics which wasn’t even two years ago. We have to be realistic in knowing where we stand. If I look at the whole picture, the top eight is a fair take. If we can manage anything better, it’s fantastic.

Are you okay with a three-month term?

When I heard about this three-month probation, I was simply not worried at all. I told myself, ‘If I’m good, I’m going to be here for three years or 30 years. What’s there to worry?’ I’m confident that I can teach these guys and they will know whether to keep me or not.

Before my appointment, I attended a two-hour interview done by Roelant Oltmans and Terry Walsh. So they’re getting professional in the way they are trying to appoint coaches. They had a proper interview and they have a probation period to check if the coach is up to the mark. And why not? That’s the right way to go about it.

The previous coach Michael Nobbs felt India had to stop trying to play the European style of hockey and go back to its roots. Is it hard for the players to adapt to changes in coaching philosophy?

If you have different ideologies, it makes it slightly difficult to adapt. But what Nobbs says is a part of what Terry is trying to do. Because you want to build on what you’re good at — those fine skills. When Nobbs said we’d been playing a European style for too long, probably he was right. Because that’s when you didn’t see those fake movements. We stopped doing the reverse pass, the overhead running pass, the wrong-foot pass — we’ve lost all that. Terry is trying to bring in that — the things we were strong at — coupled with physiology, professionalism and responsibility.

Do you see a Mohammed Shahid anywhere today?

No, definitely not. Likewise, you will not see a Shahbaz Ahmed or a Teun de Nooijer as well. Because they’re rare talents. But there are a couple of very good players in India. There’s this young boy called Lalit, from UP, who makes all these skills look like a piece of cake. Affan Yousuf is a brilliant player. These young guys look really good.