Hockey India League review
Midfielder Benjamin Stanzl is putting Austrian hockey on the map, writes Sandeep Singh
EVERY move initiated by Austrian midfielder Benjamin Stanzl on the pitch during the Hockey Indian League becomes an entry in the notebook of his Delhi Waveriders coach Cedric D’Souza, who is also in charge of Stanzl’s national team in Vienna.
Hailing from a hockey family, Stanzl is the first Austrian – and until now the only one – to feature in the Hockey India League, getting the chance to play alongside several international stars.
Although he comes from a country not considered a hot spot for international hockey, matching his skills against the best and playing in the company of top players is not a new experience for Stanzl, who played for seven years with Harvestehuder in Hamburg before moving to Dutch club Oranje Zwart.
In the auction for the 2016 HIL season, Delhi Waveriders paid US$35,000 to secure Stanzl for their squad. Among those behind the Delhi Waveriders was D’Souza, who coached a club side in Vienna three years earlier.
“It’s been a wonderful experience after Cedric picked me in his team,” says Stanzl, delighted to have made his debut in HIL’s fourth edition.
For someone who was handed his first hockey stick at age two, it is unsurprising Stanzl became a professional hockey player, despite limited opportunities in Austria.
D’Souza would have been aware of the prodigious talent of the central midfielder, but not the photograph at his parents’ house showing Stanzl playing hockey wearing diapers.
Soon after Stanzl, 29, made his debut in the HIL last year, D’Souza was back in Vienna, this time as coach of the Austrian national squad.
From a corner of his eye, D’Souza watches every move Stanzl makes on the field and elaborate notes about his performance ares sent back to the coach of his club side and the Austrian national federation.
“Back in Austria, I write to every coach about every game, a report to every club about their players. Clubs also send back reports about how their players are performing,” says D’Souza.
“A lot of communication with players is through e-mails as we don’t get too much time together.”
But with Stanzl, he has a sixweek window for coaching. The HIL also provides the player with the chance to adapt to a new team’s ethos.
Stanzl was a highly rated indoor hockey player before he switched his skills to the outdoor version.
After secondary school, he headed to Germany and seven seasons later shifted to play in the Dutch league. He has added another feather to his cap by playing in the HIL.
“Stanzl’s an outstanding player, very skilful and adept. He has played for top clubs in Europe, which raises the game of all players,” says D’Souza. D’Souza says the competition for foreign players in the HIL has become tougher as the size of the squads has been restricted to 20, only eight of who can be foreign. Out of those eight, only four can be on the pitch at any time.
“Beside the cultural experi- ence, it is a gruelling tournament that requires you to be at the top of your game physically and mentally. There is a lot of pressure,” asserts D’Souza, who had two stints as a coach of the Indian national squad before shifting to Europe.
“The more the competition, the better quality of game will be on view. Nothing comes easy. The cream of international hockey is playing in the Hockey India League.
“At the start, perhaps there was some skepticism about the tournament’s success. Everybody has now realised that it’s a league of top quality.”
In Europe, D’Souza coached in Greece for six years and was at the helm of a club team in Vienna for two years until 2012. He was back in India for four years, but returned to coach Austria last summer.
Despite all that is on offer, a few of the top players still stay away from the HIL, which D’Souza thinks is due to personal reasons and commitments they have with clubs back home.
“Some players have engagements with the national and club teams, while others have to dedicate time to study, family or work. And some may prefer to take a break from hockey,” he says. “Whether to play in the HIL or not is always going to be a player’s choice. It is the right of a franchise to select and of a player to refuse.”
He believes the HIL has been beneficial for the game. “The HIL is a boon for the players. Signing up, the players are aware of the big challenge. And the fees paid for the services of top players is quite good,” he says.
Double whammy: Glenn Turner scored one of the first two-point field goals when playing for Kalinga Lancers in the Hockey India League
Mentor: Austria coach Cedric D’Souza has been impressed with Stanzl