'I will show them the Egyptian way'

Squash Racquets Federation of India's new coach Ashraf El Karargi aims to improve coaches and players, and instil belief that Egyptians can be beaten in squash. He speaks to Sportstar on the eve of his first assignment with the Indian junior team, the world championship in Poland.

Ashraf El Karargi..."I like challenges. Without challenge, there is no fun. I came here for the challenge."   -  M. Vedhan

The new foreign coach of Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI), Ashraf El Karargi, is all set for his first assignment with the Indian junior team. The 51-year-old is looking forward to the World championship in Bielsko-Biala in Poland from August 7 to 16.

“The expectations are very high for the boys’ team. Their confidence will play a big role,” said Ashraf in an interview to Sportstar here on Saturday.

>Read: Ashraf El Karargi takes over as SRFI coach

The Egyptian, who holds a German passport, said his focus will be to try and instil the belief that it is very much possible to defeat Egyptians. "It is more mental (than anything else)," he said.

Excerpts:

Q: On expectations from the Indian team in the world juniors?

The expectations are very high for the boys’ team and in individual events. The players have to believe in themselves. They play at a high level and are in a very good shape. Their confidence will play a big role. The three tough teams are Egypt, England and France. I think India can spring a surprise.

Q: Any medal chances?

They can reach the final, and even win it. (But) I can’t promise. They have less experience, but immense potential and talent. They are hungry. I think self-belief is important.

Q. Among the boys and girls, who are the bright prospects?

Four boys are very strong: Velavan, Aditya (Raghavan), Abhay Singh and Ranjith are in very good shape. It is a matter of confidence. They are very tense, which means they feel the responsibility. My role is to release the pressure.

Q: On trying to fill the big shoes of Maj. Maniam?

I like challenges. Without challenge, there is no fun. I came here for the challenge. I want to have success with the team. Egypt is big in world squash. Some people believe that no team can beat Egypt. I believe ‘no.’ In May, when I came here I saw a lot of potential. Maniam has done a great job. He has entrusted me with a big responsibility. I feel I can live up to it.

Q: Is it not easy for you since Cyrus Poncha and Maniam have already set up a system? Will there be an Ashraf signature?

As far as I see, it’s not difficult to understand the structure. My job is to attract the players and do things I want them to do. I have two targets: first is to improve the players at the Indian Squash Academy. And, next is to follow the academy (players) and try to build a new generation of players. That is very important. It will not come in one year for sure. You will get the results after 2-3 years. I will continue to do what Poncha and Maniam did. I will (also) try to build a new team of trainers because it is important to have coaches for their (players) improvement. I will try to improve coaches and players. I will do my best. I will show them the Egyptian way.

Apart from putting in place a structure and a system, after a while I will try to bring a few Egyptian players to practice with the juniors here. Just to give them confidence. They all think Egyptians are difficult to beat. I have to break it. So, I have to show them they are beatable. They are normal persons like us. It is just that they are working hard and doing their job perfectly. It is more mental.

Q: How were your coaching experiences in Egypt?

I was the head coach of the Alexandria Sporting Club in Alexandria, which had 13 courts and 600 players. I have been there for the last three years. Before that I was with another club in Cairo.

Q: Who are the prominent players whom you coached in Egypt?

I have been coaching world women No.8 in the world, Omneya Abdel Kawy and coached world champions, Ramy Ashour, Reneem El Welily, when she was 12-13 years. Now in my club, Nour El Sherbini, the current World Women No. 1 in the world, trains. The Alexandria Club has more than 500 juniors. A big number of coaches and players are dedicated to squash in Egypt.

Q: Do you plan to have a long stint in Chennai?

Let’s wait and see. I am very optimistic. If everything goes well, maybe I’ll be here for a long time.

Q: What are SRFI’s expectations from you?

Everyone wants to be at the top. To be realistic, I'll have to get a right view from our players and compare them with players of different countries. I have to see all age group categories before I comment. We are going to give our best. I have to see all players on court and see how they play under pressure. Training is different, pressure at matches is different. I have to follow not just training. It is a big story.

Q: What has been your biggest success as a coach?

Biggest success was when Ramy Ashour won the 2004 World junior championship in Islamabad.

Q: Egypt has been a huge success in squash mainly because of the country’s former President Hosni Mubarak’s interest in the sport?

Definitely, Mubarak helped squash. But that is not the only reason. In Egypt, the league has more than 1000 payers; we have a big circuit which has about 20 tournaments every year. The completion lifts the level of players. The competition is high. Every family is looking for a champion from its ilk.

Success started in Egypt in 1985 when it completed its first squash facility in Cairo. I was 17-18 years old at that time. Mubarak got the world championship for men in 1985. So I think this tournament brought squash to Egypt. Afterwards, in 1998-90, the then Egyptian Squash Association President created the league system, which helped Egypt squash to grow further. All these things definitely helped the sport’s growth. But the difference between India and Egypt is the latter has a lot more clubs and coaches. After Egyptian Association brought in a system, it took 15 years to be the No.1. country in the world.

Q: Is it possible to have such a system in India?

Why not? You have to develop more courts. If squash becomes a part of Olympics, you will have more players, and people will take up the sport seriously.

Q: Your views on the new world women’s champion, Nour El Sherbini?

She is from my club Alexandria. I think she will dominate squash. She is 21 years old, very hungry and focussed, and enjoying the sport. If she stays injury-free, she will remain No. 1 for the next 4-5 years.

Q: Ho was the coaching stint in Germany?

I used to live in Germany as my wife is a German. I lived there for nearly 14 years. I coached in a club in Munich from 1988-96, and moved to another club where I was involved in coaching another club in Reichenberg for five and a half years. I moved back to Egypt in 2002 as I found out the sport in Germany has become very expensive and the athletes were not interested in squash but in rock climbing etc.