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Times of India: If selectors call, I will advise them to pick Devindar instead: Yuvraj (11/5/2017)
Times of India: If selectors call, I will advise them to pick Devindar instead: Yuvraj Walmiki

Rohan Alvares

MUMBAI: Yuvraj Walmiki has indeed tackled many a formidable opponent on the turf during his heyday with the Indian national hockey team. Yet, adversity perhaps ranks as his most formidable opponent of them all.

The world has known electricity for more than a century; Yuvraj's modest Marine Lines home has known it for just six years. In 2012, on the cusp of realising his lifelong dream of representing India at the Olympics, the talented forward was instead left nursing a grade two hamstring tear and a broken heart as Bharat Chettri, Sardar Singh and company jetted off to London.

Even nearly two years since he was dropped from the national team set-up without being told why, the 27-year-old isn't ready to accept the door to a return is fully shut. But that's not stopped him from lining up other goals. The ongoing eight-day coaching clinic at MHAL Stadium, which Yuvraj has specifically brought German coach Fabian Rozwadowski to conduct for the benefit of the state's current crop of talent, is one such example.

In an interview with TOI, Yuvraj reveals his burning desire to give back to the city that helped him rise to the peak of his sport while also reflecting on the agony he's had to endure along the way.

You know Fabian from your own playing time in the German League. Tell us about this initiative.

In 1999 when I started playing hockey, we had the schools, universities and we went on to play the juniors and seniors for Mumbai, there was no one who could give us the modern training. That's the main idea behind it. I thought playing in Germany for the last six years, the training we get there is absolutely different. I don't want to the blame the coaches, but we have to get that system. That's what Fabian and I keep talking about. The grassroots is very important. That's why one of my main aims is to have a clinic for coaches as well. To make the coaches aware that world hockey has changed.

Is this part of something bigger you have in mind?

This is just a start. He's (Fabian) coming next year as well. He'll also be here in December. I've already told him he has to come here twice a year.

Conducting such initiatives, does this mean you have made your peace with the possibility your days as an India player are over?

I have a very rare, very small percentage chance of making a comeback to the Indian team. That hunger to play for the country will never die. I miss being in the team. It's been almost two years. I miss the camps, getting up early, going to the dining hall where all 35 of us would meet. I don't know the reason why I was dropped. Till now, I am yet to find out the reason. I tried asking so many people. But let's say, if they call me, I will prefer telling them 'before me, call Devindar' (his younger brother). Because I think he can play longer than me keeping in mind the age factor.

You were dropped when Roelant Oltmans was in charge. With him now gone, have you got any positive vibe regarding a comeback however slim the chance?

I don't think the new coach even knows who is Yuvraj. That is my assumption. I do wonder if going commercial whether that has had some sort of affect. I did Fear Factor and Khatron Ke Khiladi (reality shows). So people get this news. But as I said, I still don't know the reason I was dropped.

You had always dreamt of becoming an Olympian. When Devindar made the cut for the Rio Olympics, happy as you would have been, were you also a tad envious?

I am his biggest critic and he is mine. To the extent that the criticism often leads to arguments, and that is good. At the end, we make our peace like any brothers would. So when the team was announced for the Rio Olympics, when his name was part of it, as a fellow player, I felt a bit 'hmm..I should be there. My brother will be playing but I won't be playing'. Jealousy is not the right word but it was a different feeling that I could not play.

That evening, there were so many members of the press outside my house. They were calling me and telling me your brother is going to be in the Olympics. My only statement was 'my brother is living my dream'. But my biggest dream right now is, the 2018 World Cup is in India. Till today, my Mom and Dad haven't watched a match of mine at a stadium. Even if I'm not part of that team, I want Devindar to play that so my parents are able to watch him. We'll take them to Bhubaneswar. That would be a different feeling.

So with uncertainty hanging over your playing career, has arranging these kind of clinics made you consider becoming a coach?

Coaching for me is a very big word. I don't know if I would fit the status of a coach. For me, I prefer to keep a camp and share my experience. I want to pick up kids from the street, make them play hockey. For that, I know you need big funding etc. but I will do it. That's my word. After four years if you see me, maybe you will see an academy of mine. I want to help kids live a simple life where they can earn for themselves, rather than begging or take to drugs or something like that.

Rozwadowski keeps his promise to Yuvraj

When Yuvraj Walmiki managed to impress then India hockey coach Michael Nobbs with his "3 D skills" at a national camp in 2011, the forward would have felt particularly indebted to the man who had taught him the art that was still fairly new to Indian hockey.

Fabian Rozwadowski and Walmiki go back to the latter's stint in the German league that began seven years ago. And so strong is the bond they share that Rozwadowski, who is head coach at the Hamburg-based Alster Club, has flown in to Mumbai on his own euro at Walmiki's request to conduct an eight-day coaching clinic for some of Maharashtra's best hockey talent at the MHAL FABIAN Stadium.

"Everything came by the friendship to the Walmiki brothers," Rozwadowski told TOI after an intense session on Friday. "I had promised Yuvi that I will come here and coach the talented players whom he knows from Mumbai. "I do it for free. Usually camps like this in Germany, a lot of coaches do it in the holidays and they are very well paid. But this is on a different level. This is friendship and about giving something back."

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