Nobbs backs youth policy

Post the London Olympics disaster last August, Hockey India selectors chose to go with the youth, weeding out underperforming seniors.

 While the results have been mixed, chief coach Michael Nobbs felt it is the way forward and the move will push the experienced pros to raise their game.

Another reason for blooding the juniors early, as seen in the just-concluded Sultan Azlan Cup, is to test them ahead of the Junior World Cup that New Delhi is set to host this December.

“There were a number of reasons for taking new players for the tournament,” Nobbs told reporters here on Sunday on the sidelines of a coaches’ clinic conducted by Hockey Karnataka. “The senior players have had a tough season and some soft tissue injuries and staleness had crept in a bit. The Junior World Cup is a priority for us.

“They did very well in the Johor Bahru junior cup last year. The future of our team for 2016 Olympics and beyond is our junior players. Thanks to Hockey India League that helped us identify these colts which otherwise would not have happened.

It was also an opportunity to give these young players an experience of playing in the National team so that the transition from the junior to senior team will be a much more seamless.

“The juniors found out that the competition at the international level is much tougher than what they saw at HIL, because in HIL one sees more attacking hockey and the players didn’t experience the pressure of wearing national colours. Beating Pakistan twice was a plus point for us,” added the Australian.

The stand-out player for the Indian team in the last five years has been Sardar Singh who has just grown from strength to strength. A fan of the midfield maestro, Nobbs said he has bigger plans for the Indian captain who will be entrusted with more tasks of shepherding the team.

“We are going to see an even better Sardar in the next 12-18 months. Sardar’s role is going to change; he is going to become more aggressive and attacking. Not just giving a pass and looking, he gives great passes but we want him to pass, give and go and get. 

“So we want him to change his role which will require a heavier load. Another aim of the Azlan Shah was to try out Manpreet. He’s just turned 21 and has 62 international caps and was named in the Azlan Shah XI in centre-midfield which is Sardar’s position. So we now have the ability to give Sardar the rest during a game and we won’t lose anything in putting Manpreet there. So we can change Sardar’s role slightly and hope it gives us more impetus.”

Nobbs also had some words of praise for upcoming player Gurjinder Singh, who emerged the player of the tournament in last year’s Hockey India Nationals. “Clearly talented but very unfit. He’s had a 12-month lay-off. He now has a fitness programme he’s working on. He’s got talent, basics and clearly a player for the future.”

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