From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.34 :: Aug. 22, 2009

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VOLLEYBALL / INTERVIEW

Playing in European leagues is the key

Former India player and National coach A. Ramana Rao is perplexed with the Indian mindset of playing in the Gulf leagues. He is of the view that the Indian players should boldly take up professional careers with the European clubs instead of going for soft options and easy money in the Gulf. By Nandakumar Marar.

RAJU. V

Ramana Rao... “Only players with guts can survive in European leagues.”

Immediately after India qualified for the semifinals of the 2009 FIVB junior men’s World Volleyball Championship, A. Ramana Rao was embraced and lifted off the floor by Mandeep Singh. It was the Indian skipper’s way of expressing his appreciation for a former player and a senior official who has distinguished himself in various capacities in the sport.

Ramana Rao is a FIVB (volleyball’s world governing body) instructor and Director of the FIVB Development Centre in Chennai. He is also a Coaching Committee member of the Asian Volleyball Confederation.

As the Tournament Director of the World Championship, Ramana Rao was seen everywhere at the Balewadi Sports Complex, tying up loose ends and ensuring smooth conduct of the FIVB event that featured 15 nations apart from host India.

A famous player who was adept at blocking during his time, Ramana Rao had seen the late Jimmy George transform into a great professional following his return from Italy.

He is of the view that the best of India’s players should boldly take up professional careers with the European clubs instead of going for soft options and easy money in Gulf leagues. From the current Indian U-21 squad that played in Pune, Ramana Rao is impressed with attacker Gurinder Singh and all-rounder Mandeep Singh. They, according to him, have the potential to play in Europe.

“Our players who want to go to Europe must have some guts. Only such players can survive there,” stressed Ramana Rao while speaking to Sportstar. The experience the Indian players gain by playing in European clubs will help the Indian team in making an impact in the international stage, added the winner of both the Arjuna and the Dronacharya awards.

The excerpts:

Question: Taking into account Soviet Union’s domination of volleyball in the past, your views on the significance of India’s five-set win over Russia at the 2009 junior World Championship?

PTI

A great victory... jubilant Indian players after pounding Russia into submission in five games.

Answer: Previously we used to have cultural exchange tours involving teams from both countries. It’s not been happening since the last six to seven years due to financial problems worldwide. The standard of volleyball in Russia even after the break-up of the Soviet Union was very high — they took part in the Olympic Games. Club teams from there used to beat us.

The wins over Russia, US and Belgium were achieved by a team whose tournament preparations were restricted to training with India Seniors. The U-21 team was supposed to go on exposure tours to Argentina, Chile and Puerto Rico before the event. The government had cleared the trip, but at the federation’s expense. As per government guidelines, the National team is supposed to get at least two exposure tours. We cannot ask the players to spend from their pockets, and since it was tough for the federation to arrange for funds at the last minute, the tours did not happen. So, the U-21 squad had to play practice matches against the senior Indian team at the National camp before going to Pune.

Three players from the U-21 team — Mandeep Singh, Naveen Raja and Balwinder Singh — joined the senior Indian team for the World Championship Asian Qualifier in China.

India’s wonderful performances at the youth (U-19) and junior men’s (U-21) levels have not translated into success at the senior level in international competitions. Why?

It all boils down to the will to win and self-motivation. The members of the Indian men’s squad, especially those playing in Gulf or Iran leagues, are exposed to international competitions. The players in the youth and junior men’s teams show more determination to make use of the opportunities. They will form the nucleus of our senior squad. Our target is the 2010 Asian Games in China.

How would you rate India’s top-four finish at the 2009 junior men’s World Championship?

The boys have done extremely well. India started as underdogs — it qualified for the championship only as host. But when our players got the opportunity, they proved themselves. I hope the volleyball lovers, and specially the government, take note of this performance and help in developing the game in the country.

Indians play in the professional leagues in the Gulf. Is it possible to create more such openings for players in proper leagues?

As far as the Gulf is concerned, in countries like Qatar and Bahrain even though there is lot of money, the standard of players who play in the leagues there is not of a high quality like in Europe. In the Gulf, the Indian players are the heroes, and the clubs are dependant on them. But in Europe, the systematic training and competition is far better than in the Gulf countries.

Former India stars like G. E. Sridharan and the late Jimmy George played in Italy. Jimmy went on to become one of the top attackers there. Based on your experiences playing with them, did you notice any change in them after they had played in the Italian League?

Definitely; the change was in the confidence that they had built up. Having played with Jimmy, the most striking aspect I had noticed in him after he had joined the Italian League was the wealth of volleyball information he had accumulated. The way the top players prepare for a match, how they train individually etc. Here, we are all amateurs and a coach is required. In the Italian League, once the coach gives a programme, he need not follow it up at all because each player is a pro and knows how to prepare himself.

Mental maturity and the confidence he had gained were the major changes I noticed in Jimmy on his return from Italy to play for India at the Seoul Asian Games.

Jimmy and Sridharan created an identity for Indian players in Italy. Why didn’t the younger players follow their path and take up club careers in Europe?

Our players have small goals, like going to Qatar and earning some money. In Italy and other European countries, clubs pay high salaries but expect high standards also. So we must be ready to face the challenge and at the same time improve our game. Training in Europe is quite different from training in the Gulf. The players who want to go to Europe must have some guts. Only such players can survive in Europe.

When I was the coach of the Indian team, three players — Joby Joseph, Ravikanth Reddy and Rajesh — had an offer from a French club that came through my friend. I expected these boys to play in Europe, but that did not happen.

Do any of the players from the current Indian men’s and junior teams have the potential to play in Europe?

Almost all the Indian seniors competing in the Gulf leagues will be able to play in Europe. Sube Singh and Pradeep Kumar play in Iran now and can go further. Sanjay Singh, who plays as the universal attacker in Qatar, is another good prospect. From the U-21 team, Gurinder Singh and Mandeep Singh have the potential.



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