Toronto: Olympio Fernandes, the goalkeeper of the World Cup winning team in 1975, has asserted that the Indian hockey is set to recapture its past glory and the national team will definitely return home with a medal from the Rio Olympics.
Having watched India’s run to their maiden final at the just-concluded Champions Trophy where they came close to winning the gold medal, Fernandes is buoyed by the performance and insisted that it was not a fluke.
“I have been watching the performance of the Indian hockey team and they played to a plan despite their depleted strength in the Champions Trophy. India hockey has found the right formula to reach the top once again,” Fernandes, who is settled in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga and works for Nissan Canada, told IANS.
“India has hit the right formula by adapting to play ‘rotating hockey’. Full credit to coach Roelant Oltmans. Under him, India have learnt the art of playing rotating hockey or possession hockey. It means that every Indian player is now capable of playing in any position. That’s a big change in the Indian style of playing hockey on astro-turf,” he added.
“Even more importantly, Indians now not only play ‘rotating hockey’ but also ‘power hockey’.”
The Goa-born goalkeeper, who represented India from 1975 to 1980, pointed out that the reluctance of India and Pakistan to adapt to astroturf played a major role in the decline of hockey in the sub-continent.
“When astroturf was introduced, India and Pakistan declined as top hockey powers because our players couldn’t match the muscle power of European and Australian players.”
“On grass surfaces, Indians used to play skill hockey and there was no need for muscle power. But on astro-turf, it is very difficult to control the ball (because synthetic grass doesn’t bend as easily as natural grass) unless you have the muscle power. But Indian players are now physically as powerful as other European opponents. Their diet is well controlled,” Fernandes explained.
“The combination of ‘rotating hockey’ and ‘power hockey’ can now propel India to the top of the hockey world. The way Indian players have been playing over the past couple of years, I will be surprised if they don’t return home with a medal from the Rio Olympics. They will,” he added.
Fernandes said current national coach Roelant Oltmans is the best thing that has happened to the Indian hockey in recent years.
“Roelant has impeccable credentials as a player and as a coach. He is a great listener and understands players very well. He is not changing their style of playing. His style is total hockey — skill and power,” he remarked.
Fernandes also credited the Indian Hockey League with rebuilding the game from the grassroots.
“The advent of the Indian Hockey League has revived this sport. It is getting players from the grassroots and giving them the opportunity to play with top international players. Players also get paid lots of money and there is no dearth of astro-turfs in India today. I am hopeful that India is now capable of regaining the past glory,” he opined.
India, the former superpower of world hockey, won gold at the Olympics from 1928 to 1956. The first serious challenge to their superiority came from arch-rivals Pakistan who won an acrimonious final at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. A couple of bronze medal performances followed before India regained the Olympic title at the Moscow Games in 1980.
Since then, several factors, including the introduction of astroturf in the mid-seventies and poor management and corruption by the national federation saw Indian hockey plummet to abysmal depths. Indian hockey reached its nadir when the national team could not qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and finished 12th and the last at the London Olympics in 2012.