Mumbai: Former India hockey coach Harendra Singh today said that ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh will have to work harder in order to regain his position in the national squad as competition within the team has become stiffer.
"I have no problem with Sandeep Singh's performances. But he needs to do better because the competition is quite good. Rupinder Pal Singh has emerged as a good defender with his drag flicks and Gurjinder Singh is quite lethal," Harendra said at the launch of a performance analysis providing company 'Sportstec'. "If a player makes up his mind to make a comeback then no coach or federation can stop him. He has the capability and the energy and the hunger to represent India. Sandeep will himself have to try to bring his game to the level at which he has given performances in the past," he said.
Hailing the recently held Hockey India League, the former coach highlighted the fact that youngsters performed better than seasoned players in the five-team event. "Hockey is youth's game. I think Hockey India League has proved if you have faith in youngsters then the result will be good. And because of HIL, the result for Indian Hockey will be good," said Harendra. "Barring Sardar (Singh), all the big names mostly failed.
Only the youngsters performed. Ranchi Rhinos and Delhi Waveriders chose youngsters and they played the final. "The best part of Hockey India league was that an Indian coach (Ajay Kumar) Bansal (coach of finalists Delhi Waveriders) proved that it is not only the foreign (coaches but also) Indian coaches can achieve what they want. The full staff was Indian," he added. However, he said that the number of teams should be increased to eight to make the league more competitive.
"The format was good but the teams were less. I think eight teams should have played. A few teams had taken it for granted that they would play the semi-final, but had it been an eight-team game then every coach, every player, every franchise would have been on their toes." Backing national coach Michael Nobbs, Harendra said the Australian needs to be given some more time to produce good results after team's dismal show in the 2012 London Games where they finshed last.
"I think the London Olympic preparation under Michael Nobbs wasn't that good because he came in 2011 July and within one year no coach can produce a medallist. You need to give him time. I think Michael Nobbs had very less time. The guidance from supporting coaches was not good. "I would have guided him saying plan for the future and the few senior players like Arjun Halappa, Raj Pal Singh, Bharat Chikara, Prabhjot Singh could have gone to the London Olympics, who were experienced and we could have finished in the top six."
Harendra felt that with the new crop of players on the ascendance, India can aim to finish in the top four in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. "With the preparation and new players, I am sure we will be in the top four because players like Mandeep (Singh), Manpreet (Singh), Gurjinder (Singh), Birendra Lakra are good. Their energy is quite good. Youth is the future. I am happy that youngsters got a chance to play and 2016 looks very good."
According to Harendra, the ongoing feud between rival national bodies, Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation can be sorted out through discussions. "Hockey has been hit and players are also suffering. As a former player and coach, I believe that if both the federations' intention is to keep hockey on top, they should keep their ego aside. "I don't think there is any problem in the world that can't be solved across the table. And the sooner it gets resolved, Indian Hockey can rise further from where it is now," he said.
Harendra felt if the Indian team had used technology in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, it would have been assured a medal. "We were lacking in technology. Since 1998, technology has boomed in sports and if in Sydney Olympics we had used technology, then after a long time India would have gained a medal in Olympics," Harendra said. India were knocked out of the semi finals on goal difference after allowing Poland to equalise through a last-gasp goal in their concluding league game.
He further said the then Australian coach had used the technology and prepared more than 100 clippings of mercurial India forward Dhanraj Pillai by taking into consideration his style of play in different situations and that in-depth detailing helped the Aussies. Badminton player Aparna Popat, who was also present at the event, also stressed the importance of technology and said, "We are not lacking in talent but preparation. We need to produce champions and we need technology."