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My Last Word
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Foreign coach for Junior India is unthoughtful an (4/14/2013)
--K. Arumugam
MY LAST WORD: So, a foreign coach for our men’s Junior national team. Is it a good move or otherwise? South Africa’s senior national team’s chief coach Clarke is our Junior India’s chief coach. It relegates incumbent Baljeet Saini to a deputy status.

This is Clarke’s decision, it is his career option. However, the point that should not be lost sight of is, he relegates himself from coach of a senior team to junior.

Normally, no coach would ever downgrade himself from senior team’s charge to junior. Mostly, junior national coaches get promoted to senior teams, and it is natural. However, perhaps the Indian market value must have counted on Clark to swim against the current. May be that he eyes on future, of landing in India, stationing here may turn out to be the game changer in the long run.

My concern here is not a coach’s dilemma or his job option.

I wish to highlight just three aspects.

Firstly, can a national team’s chief coach be appointed barely 6 months before a major tournament?

Secondly, the reasons behind going for a foreign coach for junior team too

Thirdly, the process followed for selecting a post of such nature.

Last thing first.

Selection of junior coach does not follow a transparent process. We never know such a thing was in the asking in the first place. No prospective candidates were called for, neither interviews taken place, nor any others, including Indians got a fair chance to stake their claim.

About two years ago when the search for the Chief Coach to succeed Jose Brasa had started, a genuine process was followed. Three candidates were shortlisted and interviewed before Michael Nobbs was narrowed down.

No open or genuine process was followed now in the case of Clarke. All we know is, sudden announcement in one fine morning; “Yes we got him” kind of stuff.

It was unfortunate no process was followed for appointing Performance Director too. I don’t think both are matter of coincidences, but an indication the way we do things.

Second issue is, need for foreign coach for juniors.

This is a serious matter, it entails serious discussion. First thing to be noted here is absence of national debate. One of the briefs for our senior national team chief coach was to groom future Indian coaches, and it is written in the contract. Foreign coach for juniors negate this stated objective.

Ok even that is too much to ask for from Nobbs, what was the reason for importing coach for junior team? Did anyone involved in the major decision consider every aspect of such a major move, including its long term impact in Indian scene?

India follows some sort of socialistic sports model, the core of which is jobs offer to sportspersons.

This scope drives Indian sports especially games like hockey which has no market driven massive following but has emotional connect and thus gets huge support from governments of the day.

It’s the coaches at the institutions, academies, and government agencies who focus on juniors.

They keep their ears on the ground, search for good players, groom colts, all in their effort to make a good team for their institutions.

It is these coaches on the ground who help career of young players, promote them, help them land in camps, jobs, etc.

That’s why despite many debacles on senior sides, Indian hockey still produce good players in numbers.

Every coach working at the grassroot dreams of being Sub-Junior or Junior India coach. Many of them got it. They always delivered.

Take for example: Only two teams did well in the recently held Hockey India League, Delhi and Ranchi teams.

Why?

They got right young players in their ranks, as Baljeet Saini and AK Bansal are primarily junior India coaches working with youngsters. They know where the talent is.

Its government support and grassroot coaches, who sustain Indian hockey.

Appointment of foreign coach for Junior teams therefore is not merely a question of managing 18 players for success in a couple of major tournament s– which almost is the case for senior teams.

Issues here are grassroot talent scouting, grooming them, working in different social milieu, and then motivation to undertake all these tasks.

A foreign coach for junior team has the potential to break the Indian system. Today, if Hockey India leaves out 200 prospective players and still has equal numbers to play for the country, whom it should thank?

It should thank coaches who work at grassroot and groom talent, and all of them are Indians. Its not fair to ignore everyone of them, and thrust an outsiders without understanding the pulse and dynamics of our system. Coaches at grassroot level need encouragement, and it can come through their elevation to junior teams, where they can have a final say.

An Indian who understands our system must have a final say in junior coaching because of complex factors which are very specific to this country, articulation of those things in public in particular will not enhance our nation’s image.

For instant, any player can fool a foreign chief coach on his age but not an Indian coach unless and until he allows it or overlooks it. So irrespective of documents, right people can be in the team.

Nothing more to be told on this count than stating the fact that why some stalwart players were not in the 2005 Junior World Cup team.

The coach, Harendra Singh was an Indian, who saw to it that those actually over-aged are politely sidelined. Otherwise, at least two players could have played their second Junior World Cup!!

Here it is also worth mentioning the truth that the same coach took only youngsters in the first Premier Hockey League team so that he can select a good team for that year’s Junior World Cup. Can such rationale and risk occur if he knows he will not be training the world cup team?

His successor AK Bansal saw to it about 80 percent of junior India campers were sent out of the camp on age fraud.

Coaches like them know the pulse, they know where the system rot, where the system is dynamic, how to get the best out it.

Otherwise too, India juniors performance overall has been good. They won Silver in the 1997 Junior World Cup, Jr.WC Gold in 2001, finished fourth in 2005. We were many times junior Asian champions.

When these successes do not translate into senior levels, at least on global level (not on Asian level)we all genuinely understood the need for technical and tactical improvisation in our systems, and therefore underscored the need for a foreign coach for senior teams to find, fix and implement the elusive finish.

Now, it seems the foreign coach thing is overdone, extrapolated without understanding the basics.

Filling foreigners at every gap is not the solution, quite probably it has become a fashion now in our set up.

HI nowadays seems happy with foreign lot because they are more pliable, malleable and tactile than Indian coaches, some them even set new standards!

These peripheral gains should not form cornerstone of national policy.

Thirdly and most importantly is the first point I mentioned the opening paras.

Tenure and timing.

Junior World Cup is just six months away. Is a coach magician to produce a winning team in six months? If it is so, why most successful countries appoint coaches after major tournaments and give them four or seven years to function.

It is really questionable why such an established player-coach like Clark agrees to undertake a junior team at this juncture.

Wisdom suggests the offer should have been made after the Delhi Junior World Cup so that he can fully gear up for the next number. A national consensus would have risen by then.

But who will refuse when the offer comes on a platter?

The situation now is interesting.

The person who competed, but lost out to chief coach post is now Performance Director, who will control the incumbent chief coach.

A person who has not coached senior national team is now national chief coach of another country.

A person who coached senior teams for long spells is now junior India coach.

Though no one questions anybody’s competency. but the strange things stark.

Foreigners who showed on India get posts , while Indian claimants like V. Baskaran (India qualified for the Junior World Cup under him after missing out previous two numbers), Jagbir Singh (had stints as national team assistant coach, and played long in Europe), Harendra Singh (India won first Junior Asia Cup), AK Bansal (India retained Junior Asia Cup)…and the list goes on.

Most importantly what is the fault of present coach Baljeet Singh Saini, the stylist midfielder who led Indian team for the Milton Keyness Junior World Cup, after India missed out previous two.

The decision to appoint foreigner for Junior team is unthoughtful, unfortunate, will adversely impact overall ground scenario, and importantly undesirable.

However, we note that no former coach or player came out against this decision, or even discussed publically, and silence is sign of acceptance.

But I have my view and it is done now.

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