Mumbai: Young Dabang Mumbai chief coach, Valentin Altenburg, today praised Indian hockey players for their skills and wished they could integrate those with tactical acumen of top teams like his native Germany and World Cup champions Australia to become world beaters.
The Indian hockey team training
"When I watch the Indian boys I am fascinated with their movement and skills. When (former India captain) Viren (Rasquinha) and (V S) Vinaya came to Stuttgart in those days the whole (German) league was astonished with their capability in one-on-one situations," said Altenburg soon after taking over as coach of the Hockey India League franchise team.
"This is the strength which India has and German players will never ever reach that level. However, it is a little bit more complex than that. You need to have a certain athletic and tactical concept as a team.
"I think if you could combine tactical discipline and systematic approach with smooth technical aspect of Indian hockey, that team will dominate the world for the next decade," said the 33-year-old German. He also stressed on the importance of becoming mentally stronger as a tournament progresses, a trait which has helped teams like Germany.
"What has worked well for German hockey is that they have been able to get better as the tournament continues. When they come and start a tournament they are not as strong as they are in the end. So far, Australia and Germany are mentally very strong in important games, an aspect which should not be underestimated," he explained.
Looking ahead to the HIL commencing on January 22, Altenburg wanted his team members to play by wearing their hearts on their sleeves. "I want to have a team that plays emotional hockey. I like players who play with a heart. Already we have a good squad here. With the internationals coming in we have to orchestrate our concept.
"We have a team with a few very young and promising talent. We also have a lot of very experienced players who had played lot of World Cups and international cups. I want their opinion of hockey to be integrated in our Dabang Mumbai concept."
Rasquinha, who is the franchise team's mentor, said the first goal of the team was to enter the semi finals of the six-team league. He felt the first two games, both at home at the Mahindra Stadium here, will be crucial ones. "We will have the full squad by the 15th. We play our first match on the 23rd. Our first target is to reach semi finals. We will take one step at a time. The first two games are very crucial.
"We first take on Jaypee Punjab Warriors which finished runner up last year and has a big Australian contingent most of them WC gold medalists. We will first concentrate on the first two matches," said the former India skipper.
The Mumbai franchise's second game on January 24th is against Ranchi Rays. Altenburg is confident that the foreign players in Dabang Mumbai will adapt to the conditions at the earliest. "I have been in contact with those players. They have to be used to the surroundings and once they adapt they will be very quick with their skills.
"I am very positive in my feeling, especially with help of my team (support staff) that we will have a good balance. Most players have been playing at the national level. We have to work on coming together. I am very focused on getting all in one boat (integrating the players)," he elaborated.
Altenburg was keen to be a part of HIL last year, but could not do so as he had a toddler at home, he said. "I was actually thinking to come last year. I have a very little daughter. Last year, I could not leave her and come. She is one and a half years old now," he said. He remarked that HIL was a unique league as compared to leagues in Germany as the results of matches cannot be
foretold with certainty because of certain factors.
"Barring a few exceptions the best players of the world are there this year. Certain regulations are there which are complex and tricky unlike in Germany.
"Every game is a new adventure for the coach, players and the spectators which distinguishes HIL from other leagues.
Hopefully it's also more quality. It's very difficult to predict the result in HIL," he remarked.