With the India hockey team lifting the Asia Cup after a gap of 10 years, captain Manpreet Singh was a happy man. The team beat Malaysia in the final and victory was sweet because they had lost to them earlier this year at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and Hockey World League semi-final. With former coach Roelant Oltmans getting sacked before the tournament and new coach Sjored Marijne taking over, the team was under intense scrutiny ahead of the tournament.

After two weeks on playing an aggresive brand of hockey, Manpreet credits the team for the achievement. In an interview with the Field.in the 25-year-old midfielder and Red Bull athlete talks about the team’s future goals and life under new coach Marijne.

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How is life under new coach Sjoerd Marijne? What was the change in strategy?

Sjoerd Marijne just had one aim, he said that the team will be player-driven and the coach will assist. Players will decide how they want to play and he will only assist us. He would just tell us how this method will work well for us during the Asia Cup. Everyone has to take their own responsibility and he is a really aggressive coach on the field and motivates every single player. If someone is not in good form or someone misses a chance he always says that ‘It is okay and next time you can do much better’. He is really good and a positive person.

What are his future plans for the team? Could you give us an insight?

According to him, after the Asia Cup, he has already seen the aspects we need to improve and has a plan in place. We need to improve our attacking skills and defensive structure.

Marijne stressed about give-and-go hockey and the scoring opportunity it creates. We saw this during the Asia Cup where India scored 28 goals, however, he said consistency was the key. How would you address this issue?

Marijne always told us that give-and-go is the key. He said that a player should not control the ball for more than three seconds. Whenever you receive the ball, you look before you pass it ahead. It is called pre-scanning. Before you receive the pass you should know where to pass it next. He said we have to work on it and whenever we get the ball, we should look ahead and see if we can pass. If we can’t, then we can control the ball or give it to players behind. That is his plus point. He also said that we have to work on our defensive structure because European hockey teams are better than the Asian teams.

So what is major difference between the style of working off with Marijne and former coach Roelant Oltmans?

There was no major difference because both were looking at our plus points like our counter-attack. So they worked on that. Marijne is just more positive with everyone and his give-and-go style of play works for us. Whenever you get the ball just pass don’t hold onto it.

There was a sudden change of coach, so as captain how did you motivate the team to stay focused? Was that a difficult phase to handle as a leader?

Personally, we didn’t feel any such pressure as such. We knew the Asia Cup was an important tournament for us. Whenever we went on to the ground, we focused at the task at hand. We had our training camps with the coach. We didn’t find it hard to understand Marijne’s style of play. He was so casual and friendly with all the players that anyone can talk to him personally and can share their problems.

He has never trained a men’s national team and has worked with a women’s team. Did that play up at any point?

When he was in Holland he was coaching a few boy clubs and he had that experience. I don’t think we felt any such problems, that he had an issue of training a men’s team. He was comfortable with us and we were also comfortable under him.

What is the most difficult part of leading the team or captaincy?

Personally, I don’t feel any pressure because everyone is a captain on the ground. Everyone has their own responsibilities. So for example, one guy cannot change anything. I cannot play for ten players. If we play as a team then we can beat any team. If we play individually then we cannot beat anyone.

With seniors such as Sardar Singh, SV Sunil in the side, how often do you approach them for advice when you are on the field?

I always go to them for advice. We are friendly with everyone. Even the youngsters like Sumit Kumar or Gurjant, can talk to anyone. Sardar is the most experienced player out there and is friendly with everyone. He always tells us what we need to do and how to build our confidence.

Image: Red Bull
Image: Red Bull

Your views on the youngsters that performed in the Asia Cup, Harmanpreet Singh, SK Uthappa, Varun Kumar and others.

Gurjant Singh, Haramanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Sumit and Suraj Karkare as a goalkeeper, who gave us so many lives, all played every well. Harmanpreet was good with PCs and on the defence as well. Varun as well. Gurjant scored a goal for us whenever we wanted it. For example against Korea he scored the goal with few seconds left on the clock. That moment was so important for us. They are really good and doing great right now. With the upcoming time they will get more better.

India’s PC conversion has been poor off late, a point Marijne has also brought up in the past, how do you tackle this issue?

I don’t think it was that bad. We still scored goals. Harmanpreet got the top scorer award. If his PC’s were bad then he couldn’t be the top scorer of the Asia Cup. I think he can improve more and the coach has a plan for him.

With the World Hockey League final next month and the World Cup next year, the upcoming 11 months is crucial for Indian hockey, what aspects of the game do you guys have to work on?

I think we need to look at the World Hockey League final first because we are hosts and top teams from across the world are going to show up. So we need to look at our mistakes in the Asia Cup. For example we missed our chances in front of goal especially against Korea. We need to work on that and also our penalty corners. We even need to work on our counter-attack.

So what is the next goal for the team?

We will go for a camp soon and work on our weaknesses. The Hockey World League final is our priority right now. Then we have the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games which will be followed by the World Cup at the end of next year.