Updated January 15th, 2024 at 19:10 IST
Japan coach Menezes in awe of Indian hockey's ever-growing supply line
The Mumbai-born Menezes is settled in New Zealand and was the assistant coach of the New Zealand women's hockey team at the Tokyo Olympics. He is currently the head coach of Japan women's team which is competing at the FIH Olympic Qualifier here for a Paris Games ticket.
He may have settled abroad more than 20 years ago but former India goalkeeper Jude Menezes keenly follows the progress of the sport back home and is in awe of the ever-growing supply line of Indian hockey.
The Mumbai-born Menezes is settled in New Zealand and was the assistant coach of the New Zealand women's hockey team at the Tokyo Olympics. He is currently the head coach of Japan women's team which is competing at the FIH Olympic Qualifier here for a Paris Games ticket. ''Indian hockey has improved vastly under foreign coaches. There is no dearth of talent in India. The competition is huge. If one player misses out there are 10-15 others to replace him,'' Menezes told PTI on the sidelines of the tournament.
''The hockey programme and foreign coaches played a big role in creating this. India's style of hockey has changed over the years. They now play according to a structure, which is paying rich dividends.'' Menezes, who moved to Auckland in 2002 from Mumbai, represented India in 133 matches and was part of the country's 2000 Sydney Olympics squad.
The 52-year-old was also impressed with the fitness of current Indian hockey players.
''It's amazing to see the fitness of current Indian hockey players. They are definitely one of the fittest and fastest teams in the world. They play a very fast brand of hockey,'' said Menezes. ''Australia used to be the fastest hockey playing nation but I can say without any doubt that India are at par with Australia now in terms of fitness.'' Japan are placed second in Pool A with four points from two games and Menezes, who guided the team to the 2022 Asia Cup title in Oman, knows the significance of the tournament. ''We know how big this tournament is for us. It's a qualification for the Olympic Games. 16 teams -- 8 here and 8 in Valencia -- are vying for 6 spots. It's a big tournament and we know the importance of it. But what we have decided is to take one match at a time and not focus on anything else,'' he said.
''We have been preparing right from the Asian Games, so it's been good. In June we went on an European tour and played against some strong teams. We then played the Asian Games, Asian Champions Trophy, so we have played lot of hockey in the build-up to this.'' Most of the Japanese players don't speak English but the India-born coach said language can never be a barrier in hockey or any other sport. ''I do have a translator but I show them a lot of video. Hockey in any language is still hockey. So we show a lot of video and try to ensure that they understand. I make them explain it back to me to ensure that they have understood,'' Menezes said.
Asked about his style of coaching, Menezes said he loves attacking hockey, just like the way India plays the game.
''We like to play attacking. I like flair, I like to attack, usually we play a very attacking, aggressive style of hockey, very similar to India,'' he said.
Menezes said the key to success for any side is competitive mindset and that is what he is trying to bring into the Japanese team.
''We talk of being more organised, being more composed. I believe less is more so we don't try to do 100 things, we look to do five things, but do that really well,'' he said.
''We talked about podium finishes, we talked about not just going for participation because nobody cares if we don't win a medal. It is a mindset change, we play every match like it's a last match.'' Japan will play Chile in their last pool match on Tuesday and a draw would be enough to take them into the semifinals.
Published January 15th, 2024 at 19:10 IST