Viren Rasquinha, ex-India men’s hockey captain, feels that the decision to name Manpreet Singh as Team India skipper for Tokyo Olympic Games is a logical one. For talent, temperament and ability as a team player, the latter is in the right place and right time, according to the Olympian (2004 Athens Games), a member of the silver medal-winning Asian Games squad (2002 Busan) and the title-winning Junior World Cup Hockey squad (2001 Hobart).
Having played under both Indian and foreign coaches during his international stint till 2008, the midfielder is of the view that effective coaching is more pertinent than the nationality of the India coach. Graham Reid, ex-Australia international and backed by experience of managing Australia and Netherlands squads, is chief coach of the India men’s hockey at 2021 Tokyo. He was appointed in 2019, a year before Tokyo Olympics which got delayed by a year due to the pandemic.
India squads have been under foreigners at the last two back-to-back Summer Games (Michael Nobbs from Australia at 2012 London, Roelant Oltmans from Netherlands at 2016 Rio de Janeiro).
Manpreet, India captain during the 2018 FIH Men’s World Cup at Bhubaneshwar, has been retained for Tokyo. “He is a great leader, motivator and leads by example. The effort level is always at the highest. Manpreet has done well, never anything negative with his leadership,” says Rasquinha, who played under Gaganajit Singh’s leadership at the Hobart Junior World Cup and under Dilip Tirkey at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He played under various coaches also, from ex-India international Rajinder Singh at Hobart and Germany’s Gerard Rach at Athens.
News18.com caught up with Rasquinha who opened up on a range of topics.
The India men’s hockey team is ranked fourth in the world, a creditable achievement, and a reflection of international results over a specific period. Do you feel excited about what this squad can achieve at Tokyo?
We have definitely played well in the recent past, gradually and consistently our graph is rising. After a long time, we are ranked in the top four. I personally am not in favour of going by rankings, prefer to look at performances. Our current form has been good. We have beaten most of the top teams in the world. Both in rankings and performances, I am excited about the team’s ability to take on top sides.
Manpreet Singh is the designated captain, two other key players named as vice-captains. From past experience internationally, does having more than one leader help in carrying the team along?
Historically in any team sport, there will always be more than one leader. We did not have formal designations for them earlier, now we designate them as vice-captains. I don’t see anything negative in having two vice-captains (Harmanpreet Singh and Birendra Lakra as per the official team list), who are just a couple of senior players in the team led by Manpreet.
A foreign coach at the Olympics and World Cup is an accepted fact of life… your views about hockey followers and fans coming to terms with this situation?
It is still a divided opinion - the idea of a foreigner in Indian hockey. For me personally, it does not matter whether Indian or foreigner, what matters is to get an effective coach…technically very sound, good man-manager and good at planning. Someone who is adaptable to modern methods and can bring out the best in the players is the coach we need. Going into the past, if we go by the graph, since 2008 Beijing when we did not qualify, Michael Nobbs was in charge for 2012 London (12th position), Roelant Oltmans in 2016 Rio (made the quarterfinals) and Reid for Tokyo. Neil Hagwood (Australia) was the women’s team coach in Rio, Sjoerd Marijne (Netherlands) is in charge for Tokyo.
There is no right or wrong here, we should go for the best coach. If we do have foreign coaches, I strongly recommend a pool of young talented Indian coaches being part of the experience so that they are given the opportunity to learn and improve. Years down the line, a strong Indian coach can emerge.
You have experienced both sides … 2001 Junior World Cup title under coach Rajinder Singh and 2004 Athens under Gerard Rach … main difference noticed in the way they operate and get players to perform to potential?
Every coach has a different method of training and preparations. We as players need to adapt to the system implemented. As players chosen to represent the country, the adaptability to changing environment, changing training methods is crucial as hockey itself is changing. I enjoyed playing under both. Rajinder Singh gave a lot of freedom to the players. He was superb in getting the best out of the team, even if it meant giving players the freedom to decide tactics. Rach, like all German coaches, was structured in how we defend and how we counter-attacked, pressurised rivals from their left side.
Current coach Graham Reid was appointed in 2019, one year before the scheduled Olympics in Tokyo last year. Do you feel whoever is in charge deserves a longer tenure?
Stability in coaching is important in my book, it is not easy to change the philosophy of the players. Changing takes time because the coach is dealing with individual players who are different personalities and have different skills. Results in the majors (tournament) determine the tenure, but I would like any coach in charge of the national team to get a minimum of two years. We play in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games alternate years, the Olympics in the next two years so these are milestones to be taken in consideration. Two years is the minimum and ideally, the term should be a four-year Olympic cycle.
The 2021 FIH Pro League was the latest sight of the India team at full blast in a major tournament (India beat Olympic champion Argentina and mighty Australia). Can we expect Manpreet and squad, playing at full strength, to perform along the same lines?
The challenge for India is to play consistently well, over seven matches (at the Olympics). It is also about how we perform in the knockouts. You will always come up against a strong opponent in the quarterfinals stage and it boils down to how well we do that particular day. There are no weak teams at this level and no team can take its place in the league for granted.
Do you feel experienced hands with accumulated Olympics experience, for example pacy forward SV Sunil and goal-scorer Akashdeep Singh who have been excluded, added value when the chips are down?
Experience can never be discounted. Sunil and Akashdeep have given great service to Indian hockey. I know both very well, because we have seen them over the last decade. Players selected in their place, Shamsher Singh or Dilpreet Singh, we do not know as well, compared to these seniors. Let us trust coach Graham Reid’s judgement. If can give the coach the team he wants, finally he can be held responsible for performance. We should not forget that the Olympics is a 16-member squad, not an 18-member squad. You need players who can play seven to 12 matches well, capable of delivering in different positions. The coach weighs options and cannot go by emotion when choosing the combination for Tokyo.
Restrictions imposed by the pandemic has altered everything, including meticulous preparation plans by the coach Reid, in tandem with Hockey India and Sports Ministry. How can the players manage anxiety in a changing situation?
Anxiety and uncertainty is the same for everyone across the world in all sectors. Last year when the pandemic hit sport for the first time and the Olympic Games was postponed by a year, there was no road-map about when it would be held. Athletes train very well when there is a fixed goal in front of them. When that goal is taken away, it is hard on athletes to train and was the toughest part. Now they are sure that the Olympics is definitely happening, there is no point worrying about things not in your control. The pandemic is not in their control, nor are the ever-changing Tokyo protocols. As athletes, they should keep it simple and worry about factors in their control…how they train, how much to rest, the quality of sleep are things they can focus on.