April 03, 2020
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‘The European Style Wasn’t Working’

India's Australian coach on how he turned things around

‘The European Style Wasn’t Working’
Sanjay Rawat
‘The European Style Wasn’t Working’

Michael Nobbs tells Rohit Mahajan how he turned things around

What was the key to this success?

Speed, fitness, patterns of play. All of those things are meant to be in a combination. There’s no point having fitness if you can’t play the planned patterns. The quality of the players is the key to everything else. The perception around the world is that India has a magical group of players and all they need is to get fit and they’d win. That’s far from the truth.

How did you get players to switch from the European to the more aggressive Indian/Australian style?

It meant going back to the basics. Statistical and video-based analysis showed they were playing the European style—which wasn’t wrong. It’s just that it doesn’t come naturally to them, and wasn’t working. We had to retrain the players, and that was a bit difficult. We had a singular group playing the European style in the team, while all others played the Indian style! So it involved relearning one style, changing another style, and then amalgamating it into one pattern of play. Then, we had to improve fitness levels, work on the nutrition and physiology part of the sport. The main reason it worked was that the players have great ability.

You seem a genial person. Was it tough to get the players to your way of thinking?

Yes and no. It’s a matter of trust. You’ve to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about. The only way to do that is by showing that my plans work. When we went to the Asian Champions Trophy (in September), we won. That was terrific. It was an indication to me that we could move things along faster than expected.

You have talked about increasing the player pool. What are you looking for?

I’m looking at increasing the numbers of players who can play at that level. The main problem is that if you pick up 18 players and you get an injury, you’re in trouble. More options would lead to a healthy competition among the players, and you’d have replacements during injury or loss of form.

What sort of support did you get from Hockey India?

Excellent support, and no interference. Also from the Sports Authority of India. Even the Union sports minister. Every single person has played a role.

Your wife (Lee Capes, winner of 1988 Olympics gold in hockey) has been helping you, and gratis?

It’d better be gratis! She’s been working on the statistical side. Not sure what payment she’d expect now!

You’ve said you’re more Indian than many Indians. How?

I mean that in terms of the Indian, eastern philosophy and way of living. Everything in my life, in terms of this sport that I love, is Indian. It means being honest and sincere, not having an ego. I see so many people here who follow that creed—honesty, integrity and passion to help the poor—though there are bad people too. I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan. I like eastern values, respect for their elders, spiritualism.

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