Taste of India
Sandeep Singh talks to Manuel Brunet to discover the effect of winning a gold medal in Rio
All the latest news and views from the Hockey India League
More and more European clubs are taking notice of the hockey talent in Argentina after the Olympic gold medal, says Manuel Brunet, a member of the champion side at Rio de Janeiro who has been a feature of the Belgian league for several years.
“Life is different after the Olympic gold medal. As sportsmen, we get more recognition since the gold medal at the Olympic Games and before that the bronze at the last World Cup,” says Brunet, who comes from Rosario, where his club Universitario de Rosario have been basking in the glory of the glittering metal he brought back from Brazil last summer.
Brunet asserts that one big difference has been the increasing number of offers coming from European clubs for Argentina’s men. “The European clubs are showing more interest in hiring our players as professionals,” says Brunet.
“Before our gold medal at Rio de Janeiro, six of us were contracted with European hockey clubs. Now there would be 12 or 13 Argentine men playing in Europe. That’s going to be good for our national team because the level of hockey competition there is higher than in Argentina.
“In Argentina, hockey is an amateur sport. We receive some money from the government when we are part of the national team programme, but club hockey is completely amateur,” he says.
Brunet, 31, has been playing for Royal Daring Hockey Club in Belgium for the past four years, but this season got his first chance to feature in the ongoing Hockey India League, where he was a late inclusion in the Delhi Waveriders squad.
“This will be my fifth year playing in the Belgian league, but it’s the first opportunity I have got to be part of the Hockey India League. I’m enjoying the experience and hope to be back for many more years,” says Brunet, who got a call from Delhi Waveriders just one month before the start of the HIL’s fifth season.
“I was not picked by any team in the auction for last season, but was not disappointed as I know it is difficult to get into the limited slots available for foreign players,” says the Rosarino, who will get paid his base price of US$20,000 for this edition of the HIL. “It was when a vacancy occurred after a foreign player dropped out that Delhi Waveriders approached me and I gladly accepted the invite.
“There are not many Argentine players in the HIL. I hope to see more players playing here. Joining a squad with players from several nationalities is a very nice experience,” he says.
Right now, three members of Argentina’s Olympic squad are playing in the HIL. The other two, Agustín Mazzilli and Gonzalo Peillat, are teammates at Uttar Pradesh Wizards, who bought them at the auction for last year’s HIL. Mazalli and Peillat are now having their second season here.
Life is different after the Olympic gold medal. As sportsmen, we get more recognition since that and the World Cup bronze
How come not many Argentine players come out to play in the HIL?
“You have to ask franchises as to why they’re not picking the Argentines. We have shown interest and been available every year. I suppose the interest will increase after our Olympic gold medal,” he says.
Argentina’s players have a clear window if they get picked by teams at the HIL, although they would need permission to miss part of the training with the national squad. The hockey season in Argentina runs from March to November.
Those who play in Europe also need to keep aside the window from September to May for their respective clubs there.
“We normally have a break at this time, but start preparation with the national team in February. I will be missing that training as I have been permitted to play in the Hockey India League,” says Brunet, who has been coming to India often with his national squad.
“With the national team we normally come to India every year. I try to do some sight-seeing while in India.
“It began with the World Cup in New Delhi in 2010, when some teammates decided to visit the Taj Mahal,” he says.
Brunet says the Olympic title won by the Argentine men should attract more boys to hockey.
“We hope hockey will attract a lot more boys now after our gold medal at Rio. The men’s hockey pool is still very small compared to the women,” says Brunet. “Lots of girls play hockey in Argentina. Hockey is the national game for women in our country.
“Men’s hockey has to compete with football and rugby. Almost every kid plays football. I played football and hockey until I was 12 and then I decided to pursue hockey seriously,” adds Brunet.
“The Olympic gold medal should boost the image of hockey. To boost the image of hockey, we need more young boys to take up the game.”
Golden boy: Manuel Brunet, right, of Argentina, competes during the men's gold medal match against Belgium PICTURE: PA