Sultan of Johor Cup: 'Indians were more skillful, but Great Britain were intelligent,' says coach Jude Felix after final
At the Seoul Olympics in 1988, Jude Felix Sebastian scored against mighty West Germany to help India to a draw - just as he did as part of a winning cause against hosts South Korea and Canada, playing alongside hockey legends like Mohammed Shahid, Merwyn Fernandes, and M M Somaya.
The half-back from Karnataka went on to captain the national side in the early 1990s and was the deserving recipient of the Arjuna Award in 1995.
An accomplished mentor who honed his skills in Singapore and Europe, Felix served as an assistant to Aussie Terry Walsh in 2014 and was appointed coach of the junior side in August last year, following which he guided the Indians colts to a bronze medal at the 2017 edition of the Sultan of Johor Cup.
The Bangalorean, who gifted his city with the Jude Felix Hockey Academy which is a purely non-profit organization, helped the junior boys win gold at the Youth Olympic qualifiers in Bangkok earlier this year.
"In spite of the loss, we have created 30 very good players"
Under his tutelage, the U-21 side bettered their record at the Sultan of Johor Cup as they fired in 19 goals in 6 matches, beating Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan, and mighty Australia before going down fighting to Great Britain in the final.
The coach made no secret of the fact that he was proud of the way the boys performed.
"In spite of the loss, we have created 30 very good players - the junior core group. Out of these 30, ten boys have literally come out of India for the first time to play. The remaining 9 are on their way to winning a medal in the Youth Olympics. So, the result definitely speaks for itself as to how these boys have shaped up in the camp."
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, Jude Felix sums up India's show in the tournament, lists out the changes in the system he very dearly wishes to see, and analyzes what the players of today need to improve to win consistently on the pitch.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
"We have forgotten to use our wrists to play hockey"
SK: With regard to skill, speed, and fitness, how do the boys of today compare with the teams you played for in the 80s and 90s?
Jude Felix: With regard to speed and fitness, the boys of today are definitely much better but sadly, I must say, hockey-wise, they need to be more versatile and utilize the hockey skills that help you win matches - that is why we often say, we have forgotten to use our wrists to play hockey. Otherwise, it becomes too predictable as to how we play.
We cannot copy the Europeans and we need to play to our own strengths.
"British boys did use their physical advantage, very intelligently"
SK: In the final, do you feel the British boys used their physical advantage to good effect initially?
Jude Felix: The British boys did use their physical advantage, very intelligently, I must say to their advantage especially with tackles on Shilanand and a couple of younger players but that is all part of the game. We can learn from these special things that they come out with.
SK: The Indians were on top of their game throughout the first half but seemed to lose the plot for a while after the second goal. Would you say that was the turning point?
Jude Felix: Yes, we were on top and took the lead. Unfortunately, the boys need to have more exposure and training to know how to play the game with the same intensity even after taking the lead.
Mind you, some of these boys have been through just two camps, and with more exposure, they will definitely come good - I have no doubt about that.
SK: We almost had an equalizer after Abhishek's goal. Was it also a case of just bad luck on the day?
Jude Felix: We did almost have an equalizer immediately after Abhishek's superb goal but unfortunately, Yashdeep missed for the second time - the first miss happened in the same situation in the pool game against Great Britain but today, it could have been the turning point.
We would have made it to the shootout if he had scored, so it is sad that he missed. He tried the best that he could but unfortunately, he skied the ball from such a close distance - it was rather just a bad day that he had.
SK: In spite of the loss, players like Mandeep Mor, Shilanand Lakra, Gursahibjit, and Abhishek (to name a few) displayed amazing skill. In terms of sheer skill were we the better side?
Jude Felix: We definitely were better than Great Britain in terms of skill but skill alone will not help. We need to have intelligence which the British players showed a lot, on the field, be it in the way they took their time in starting the game and in many other aspects as well. They showed a lot of intelligence and we can learn from them.
SK: You were with the younger boys at the Youth Olympic Qualifiers. Which tournament did you enjoy more?
Jude Felix: Well, I was with the boys at the Youth Olympic Qualifiers but I really cannot compare the two to say which is better because I have the same passion be it the Youth Olympics or the Sultan of Johor tournament.
Of course, in the Youth Olympic Qualifiers, we won the gold and it always feels good to win. Unfortunately, in this tournament, we fell short by a goal.
"Selection needs to happen over the course of a week and not a day"
SK: Does the abundance of talent make it tough to select the final squad?
Jude Felix: There is a lot of talent in India but the sad thing is that we need to correct these talented kids right at the academies or at the SAI sports hostels itself.
It is tough to select a team, but we should change our system of having selections over a period of just a day. Rather, we need to do so over the course of a week and then go by the reports of the coaches to select the final squad.