Former India hockey captain Sandeep Singh reckons India must stick to their attacking style of hockey going into the Olympic qualifiers later this year. The Manpreet Singh-led side, that finished sixth at last year's FIH Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar, will play the FIH Series Finals — an Olympic-qualifier event — at the same venue from 6-16 June.
Sandeep, an acclaimed drag-flicker in his time, also said that the hosts will face stiff competition from Poland at the FIH Series Finals. India, currently ranked fifth by the FIH, are pooled with Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Africa, and the USA for the event. Poland finished last at the 2017 Euro Championship and also failed to qualify for the 16-team World Cup.
"Attacking hockey is our style, and we must stick to it. It suits us well, and I think we should not change our character going into the Olympic qualifier," Sandeep, an acclaimed drag-flicker in his time, told Firstpost.
Sandeep, though, cautioned against taking the 21st-ranked Poland lightly. "I think Poland will be a tough competitor and we must not take them lightly," he said.
Further, he lauded former captain Sardar Singh's foray into selection committee and said that the ace midfielder's recent stint with the national team puts him in the best position to judge players' potential.
Sardar was quietly inducted in the 13-member selection panel by Hockey India early this year, and the veteran playmaker has insisted on finding a balance of youth and experience for the upcoming events. That philosophy seems to have impressed Sandeep too, who weighed in on the importance of experienced players in the team. "That's the best policy to build a team. You can't just blood in youngsters and ignore the experience. A lot of times, in crunch situations or matches, the team needs an experienced campaigner to guide them.
"I think Sardar's inclusion in selection panel is a very welcome step, and I must laud Hockey India and Sardar for this step. Players who have played recently should come up and take such positions since they are best equipped to handle and understand the demands of modern hockey. Since he was an active player till recently, he is well aware of the potential of the current players. It is a very good step, and I wish him the best," he said.
Sandeep is also set to launch his chain of hockey academies to develop players at the grassroots level. The ambitious plan includes opening 100 centres across the country within three years, with the first academy set to be inaugurated before the end of March.
"It will be all about preparing next generation of hockey players, and the idea sprouted during the Olympic qualifiers in 2012, when a fan told me that Indian hockey can regain its glory only if we work on our grassroots structure. That got me thinking," he mused.
"We don't have that many academies in India that look to catch talent early. Whatever academies are there are accessible only to players who have achieved a certain level of finesse in the game. With this, we aim to groom young talent who can go on to become good players."
Sandeep is tying up with a number of schools, colleges, and smaller academies to bring a large number of children under the fold, but the thrust, he says, will be on helping students build a career in sports.
"I am very interested in students of Classes 5 and 6. That's when children begin to understand a sport. Initially, the focus will be to develop an interest for the sport, and gradually, we'll introduce them to the concepts of fitness and diet. With the help of qualified coaches, we'll look to groom them into potential players. My dream is to develop a sports culture in the country and draw as many kids as possible towards sports," he said.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jan 25, 2019 16:22:00 IST