There is a pressing need to find suitable back-up for the national side’s top goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh.
In the recently-concluded Hockey World League in Rotterdam, the country’s second goalkeeper P.T. Rao, 34, played for only six minutes in the first (against Ireland) match, even as India finished sixth among eight teams. Michael Nobbs had no choice but to field his best goalkeeper as the journey got progressively tougher.
The outgoing coach recognises this area of concern.
“Yes, we do not have a back-up for Sreejesh. P.T. Rao is stop-gap, and has done well. But age is against him, and we need to find some new goalkeepers,” says Nobbs.
With the Asia Cup around the corner and many important competitions such as the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the World Cup coming up next year, who will share Sreejesh’s workload?
“I am worried. God forbid, Sreejesh gets injured. What will happen then?” asks Olympian goalkeeper A.B. Subbaiah.
“I am not against P.T. Rao. But he is 34. We need to find a pool of 10 talented goalkeepers, and train them properly.”
Nobbs cautions that time is running out.
“There is not enough time to build them (promising youngsters) up and give them enough experience.
“It takes 12 to 18 months… to build them up physically and train them with modern goalkeeping training and techniques, then give them 20-30 internationals before they are of real value to the programme,” he says.
Edgar Mascarenhas, who guarded the Indian goal in the mid-1990s, points out the flaw in the handling of affairs.
“I have been noticing the pattern for some years, and only two goalkeepers are being called for a camp. There is hardly any competition. So complacency is bound to creep in.”
“During our days, there used to be good competition… Ashish Balal, Aloysius Edward and Edgar Mascarenhas and I were fighting for places in the National team. So, everybody tried to give his best,” he recalls.
Mascarenhas, who is initiating an effort to train talented ’keepers in Mumbai, points out that Sreejesh was the only Indian ’keeper who was seen in action in the Hockey India League.
“Rest were all foreigners. Each one of them showed his class, and was a match-winner,” Mascarenhas says.
Good goalkeepers can be groomed through solid training, Mascarenhas says.
“During my time, we had the opportunity to train under Cedric D’Souza.
He had brought (1988 Olympics gold medallist) Ian Taylor from Britain, and we benefitted by following his regimen. Taylor taught us how to kick the ball without giving rebounds,” he says.
Nobbs also speaks of the importance of nurturing talent.
“I think there are many (good goalkeepers) around. We just need to get them into academies that can do the basic work so that when they hit the national programme, they, at least, have a chance, and then, be able to compete against the players already there.”
Hockey India, seems to have realised the urgency of the matter; it has included seven goalkeepers among the 48 probables in the camp for the Asia Cup.