Sunday, September 27, 2009


Jose Brasa was roped in three months ago as a final attempt to save Indian hockey. Back from an eventful European Tour with the senior men’s hockey team, the Spaniard is cautiously optimistic about his stint here.

On the tour, India fought England and Belgium thrice each and Spain and Holland twice. The one win against England was impressive considering England had won the European Championship. India won two matches against Belgium, drew one against Holland and lost both matches against Spain.

Brasa almost resigned on the second day of his job, after a Sports Authority of India official allegedly misbehaved with him. The issue was later hushed up. There were other hurdles like the lack of equipment and coaches; goalkeeper Baljit Singh’s eye injury was also a major setback.

But Brasa is going ahead at full throttle. He put a sweeper in front of the goalkeeper, bolstered the half-line and asked them to defend as well as move up. He introduced multi-tasking for everyone, except the goalkeeper.

He is currently conducting a four-week national camp at Pune, ahead of the team’s training-cum-competition stint in Canada. The camp was not without controversy as the foreign trainer quit on the second day. Excerpts from an interview:

The European Tour was your first with the Indian team. Your assessment?

We made tactical changes and systemic ones, too. There is no multi-tasking. For example, forwards attack with no responsibility for defending and fullbacks have no role in attacking. That has to change.

Hockey now means a goalkeeper and 10 players. There are no individual defenders or midfielders. Everyone has to play close to the ball. Players have to run much more than before. Man-to-man marking is another key area.

You were not keen on the tour. What did you learn about the team while on tour?

Yes, I was not keen because we are still learning. We went with 22 players to give everyone exposure. It would have been better to start with equals and not stress the players to play against better teams. Playing better teams is a bad situation to learn. European teams were at their peak; they were ready to play the European Championship. We were at the start of our new season and the Asia Cup was three months ago.

I was surprised by the team’s competitiveness. They are fighters; all of them want to win. In Europe, we played all matches with man-to-man marking. There were initial problems, but the players settled down. They are very clever, skilful and experienced and are very keen to learn. They love being in the Indian national team. Their motivation level is very high, which makes my job very easy.

After seeing the team in action, where do you think they stand?

We still need to play a lot. The tour showed the players that they could beat any top team. So in the World Cup they can play any team with confidence.

What is the focus of the current camp?

We are receiving new players. I am unable to watch matches in India with the national championship getting cancelled. I saw a few junior World Cup matches in Singapore and have invited some of the players.

When will you finalise core groups for the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games?

The core group is already decided. Unless there is an exceptional player somewhere out there, I think most key players are here. It depends which of them learn and adapt to the new system faster. In the past, Indian players have been known as selfish players, unwilling to let go of the ball.

Is that a difficult habit to break?

No. I use a lot of mental training games. Every player has to play these games according to rules and since Indians like to win every game they do their best here, too.

How serious is the issue of conceding goals in the last minutes of a match?

It is a serious problem. There are two reasons physical and mental. For the former, we are now using rolling substitutes to ensure they are not too tired in the last ten minutes of the match. We can solve that in a few months.

There is a lack of concentration among Indian players; they are very emotional and passionate. When they are winning, they get excited thinking the match will be over soon. It is difficult to sort this out. It is an illness when it happens regularly, but on the European Tour we won or drew some matches we were losing. It was not the case in Chile [Olympic qualifiers] or during the Asia Cup.