CHENNAI: His last cap for India came in 2007, but Vadipatti Raja is still very much active in hockey. Captaining Indian Bank at the Chennai Hockey Association Super Six League here, Raja has been very active in the European circuits over the past eight years.
“I’ve been playing for Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga for the past five years, before which I played for two years in Holland. Playing in such leagues is very helpful, for you get to play with Europeans and Australians. It’s more technical, and there is less focus on dribbling, unlike in India,” he said.
The 28-year-old has has even opened an academy to encourage youngsters pick up the stick. All this from his own pocket, as sponsors have been difficult to find. “I opened the VRH (Vadipatti Raja Hockey) Academy in Anna Nagar last year, and we have around 60 players. I foot most of the bills myself, as sponsors are not coming forward. We are planning to get coaches from outside to come and give some tips to our boys,” Raja noted.
His tryst with the Bundesliga has also been of immense help, with respect to equipment for his academy. “Last year, my club decided to pay me extra money, apart from my salary. But I requested them to help me organise equipment instead, for my academy, as we were in need of new gear. So they decided to send over 200 hockey sticks, and bore all costs for the same. I had to shell out `70000 myself to get the equipment from the port to Anna Nagar, but it was all worth it in the end,” he beamed.
Having a job at Indian Bank has also helped. Raja revealed he got two promotions as a result of his hockey achievements. “I started out as a clerk in 2004, and have been promoted twice since then.”
Being one of the last players from the state to have represented India, Raja feels that lack of support is a factor for this drought. “Adam (Sinclair) and I were the last people to play for India, so yes, it has been a while since someone from Tamil Nadu has played for India. I believe that lack of support is a big reason, while over the past eight years, less exposure to has been a factor. You have to remember that we’ve produced some of the best players to play for India. Our team always manages to enter quarterfinal stages at national events, but getting call-ups to national camps has been an issue after that. So care needs to be taken about that.”
On the upcoming Olympics, where India have been drawn with heavyweights Germany and Netherlands, apart from a strong Argentina side, Raja is positive India can grab a medal. “The Indian team has some high-level players, and the coach is also doing a good job. I am confident we can win a medal,” he concluded.