By Anand Philar, Bangalore, March 27 IANS | 9 months ago

For Jude Felix Sebastian, life has come a full circle with his appointment as an assistant to chief national hockey coach Terry Walsh, although just over eight weeks ahead of the World Cup in the Netherlands this summer.

At this stage, it is a matter of conjecture whether Felix would be able to make an impact on a team that is clearly struggling to make a mark at the highest level, but on a personal front, the invitation to join the squad represents a fulfilment of his dreams to coach the national team.

"Obviously, I am quite excited and hopefully, we will be able to deliver a good result in the World Cup," Felix told IANS on the phone from Delhi while not wishing to comment on the sudden move that saw him replacing Vasudevan Baskaran.

On his retirement from hockey, coaching has always been his call and for Felix, who for long nursed ambition of training the national side, the latest assignment is the biggest challenge he has faced till now.

As a player, Felix was among one of the better half-backs India has produced though he started his hockey career as an inside forward. In fact, Felix enjoyed his best hockey moments as a half-back where his creative skills found expression and complemented his ability to score goals.

Back in 1994 at the World Cup in Sydney, Felix, playing at centre-half in a 4-4-2 formation that coach Cedric D'Souza adopted, and somewhat similar to the system that Balkishen Singh had introduced a few years earlier, led India to fifth spot, the same as in the 1981-82 edition.

Felix controlled the pace and movements on the field with a deftness and confidence that won him high praise from the knowledgeable. A calm head and a wide vision helped him stand up to the attacks and also send precise passes to the forwards. The elegance in his execution reminded old-timers of Ajit Pal Singh, captain of the 1975 World Cup winning team.

On retirement, Felix shifted base to Singapore where he went on to train the national team, but given the paucity of hockey talent, the desired results never materialised. Yet, throughout his over decade-long stay in Singapore, his heart was always with Indian hockey and he watched with horror as the successive national teams slid from bad to worse.

"Having captained India, it is difficult to see the team performing poorly. I feel I have plenty to give as a coach and am always ready to take up the challenge if asked," Felix had told this writer soon after the horrific 2002 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur after D'Souza was sacked midway through the tournament following a string of defeats.

For all his enthusiasm and hope, Felix never got the call from the country's hockey administration as Indian hockey's slide to doom continued unchecked, touching the nadir in the spring of 2008 when the team failed to qualify for the summer Olympics in Beijing for the first time in eight decades.

"Obviously, it hurts a lot when India cannot qualify for the Olympics. Still, I feel things can be set right, for there is a lot of talent and it is a question of harnessing it and pointing it in the right direction," was Felix's reaction six years ago.

Felix gave vent to his frustration through newspaper columns where he was quite in the face with his criticism that in turn only earned him the wrath of the administrators, and perhaps delayed an invitation to coach the national team.

His stint as the coach of the Bangalore franchise team in the short-lived World Series Hockey run by Indian Hockey Federation which was by then replaced by Hockey India as the country's controlling body, did not help his cause any until earlier this week when HI president Narinder Batra called him with an invitation to join the team as coach.

During the years out of limelight, Felix found satisfaction in his hockey academy that trains under-privileged and orphan children, a couple of whom have earned awards and spots in the Sports Authority of India teams.

"The academy is very close to my heart and it also gives me an opportunity to express myself as a coach. The greatest satisfaction is in the performance of these kids, a couple of whom are quite talented," Felix had said a couple of years ago when his academy, launched in 2009, began to attract attention.

Now, after a long wait, Felix has received his calling. "I will do my very best and that is all I can say at this moment," he concluded.

Anand Philar can be contacted at anandphilar@gmail.com)

(Posted on 27-03-2014)

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