KOCHI: On a grassy field in Kochi, the 6’ tall Ulrich Pfisterer, in a blue T-shirt and track pants stares at the footballers in bright yellow jerseys standing at one side of the ground. Then Ulrich, the chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation, says, “Okay run.” The footballers run from one side to the other. The winner is not the one who comes first, but the person who can stop the closest to the sideboard. After a while, they began to get a good feel of how far they can go. This is Ulrich’s first visit to Kerala as well as India. He has come at the invitation of Sunil Mathew, the Director of the Indian Blind Football Federation. In the past few days, Ulrich has developed an understanding of the psyche of the players, who have come from different parts of India to take part in workshop and training sessions.
“Many of the players are not used to moving around independently,” says Ulrich, who is also the head coach of the German team.
“Maybe, it is because of the type of training they have received in their childhood and at school. Indian players stay close together and are not confident about moving into open spaces.” One reason could be that Indian society, apart from the coaches and other trainers, tends to be overprotective of blind people. “But that should change,” says Ulrich. “The attitude should be: you are a football player who just happens to be blind.”
The players are also not used to tough physical contact during a game. “You need to have an attitude of being tough and strong,” says Ulrich. “Top teams like Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Germany play very aggressively. You need a similar sort of aggression if you want to compete on the international stage.”
They also need to develop their footballing skills. “Ideally, they should have a ball at home,” says Ulrich. “They can practice, for example, when they go from the bedroom to the toilet, controlling the ball. The aim is to play with the ball all the time so that you can develop kinesthetic awareness. The ball becomes a part of you, like it is with Lionel Messi [one of the all-time great footballers] whenever he plays.”
Interestingly, each country has its own way of playing. “The Germans have a clinical style. They are always focused towards scoring goals and play a hard physical game. On the other hand, the Chinese are very skilful, but they forget that there is a goal. Sometimes, during a match, they enjoy as much as 70 per cent possession. But when they come against the strong English and German defenders, they are unable to move forward,” says Ulrich. Meanwhile, Ulrich took the opportunity to tell the wards about the new trends in blind football. “If you try to stop the ball, by stretching your feet, it might go between your legs,” he says. “So, you have to get the body behind the ball and catch it with both your feet.”
For dribbling, you cannot afford to push the ball and run after it. So, you have to use both your feet to caress the ball. As for short passes, you can put your sole over the ball and push it forward. “It always goes in a straight line,” says Ulrich. “Finally, the most powerful shot in front of the goal is the poke with your toe. It is so fast, on many occasions, the goalkeeper is easily beaten.”
Blind Football Academy inaugurated
The Blind Football Academy was inaugurated at Kochi yesterday by Ulrich, in the presence of actor Rima Kallingal. The academy has been set up by The Indian Blind Football Federation (IBFF), along with the Society for Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged. It is the first academy for the blind in India.
About eight to 10 players, from different parts of the country, like Rajasthan, Dehradun, Delhi, Kolkata, and the North-East will stay full-time. Apart from developing their skills as players, they will also get training in computers, telemarketing, yoga, and nutrition. “The aim is to build a strong Indian side,” says Sunil.At this moment, India is ranked 23rd in the world.