KOCHI: Chosen as the wellness coach of the Belgian national team, Indian mind strategist Vinay Menon has taken “yogic philosophy” to the global stage at Qatar 2022. It may come as a surprise to many, the Malayali wellness guru — the only Indian officially associated with the FIFA World Cup in Qatar — has been playing a vital role in “tuning the minds and bodies” of Belgian players for “peak performance.”
Sports can be mentally taxing. Devastating, at times. “I felt myself dying inside,” the pony-tailed Italian striker Roberto Baggio recalled years after his excruciating penalty shootout miss in the 1994 World Cup final against Brazil at Rose Bowl, US. “It is a wound that never closes. It haunts me. I still dream about it.”
More recently, in March, French midfielder Paul Pogba revealed he had been through depression “several times”. “In football it is not acceptable, but we are not superheroes, we are only human beings,” he added. “If you are not shielded mentally, you are dead in this sport.”
That’s where the wellness coach enters, says Vinay. “Though football is a team sport, each player carries the immense load of expectations of fans, of a whole nation, on his shoulders. On top of that, of course, there are family priorities, social media pressure, etc.”
An expert in “advanced mind reprogramming strategy”, Vinay says he individually focuses on each player to help them put forward optimal performance as a team. And one of his thrust areas is to “negate the fear of failure from the minds of every team member.”
‘Will be great to see more Indians cheering for Belgium’
Notably, Vinay, 48, has been the mind strategist and wellness coach of Chelsea FC for the past 13 years, during which the team won the Champions League twice - in 2011/12 and 2020/21.
Vinay’s journey from Cherai to Chelsea was quite amazing. “I was never into football,” he laughs. “I was a state-level judo champ, thanks to a neighbour who initiated me into sports when I was about 10.” That boy went on to do MPhil in physical education. “And then, my mentor asked me what would be my doctoral research area,” Vinay recalls. “I replied, ‘How to make a leader a better leader.’”
His quest subsequently took Vinay to Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute and even the Himalayas. “I was never into yoga in my early student days,” he says. “My maternal grandfather, Sreedharan Menon, was a yogic. Perhaps it is in my DNA. I believe the concept of promoting wellness is an integral part of the Indian DNA.”
His tryst with football came in Dubai, where he was a wellness specialist at a top resort. “That’s where I got the Chelsea offer,” says Vinay, who has several Indian and foreign celebrities and tycoons in his clientele.
With Chelsea and now Belgium, his training programme includes what he calls ARFA strategy - awareness, recovery, focus and achievement - which is rooted in “Indian yogic philosophy”. “I am glad and proud to take forward the spirit of Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu,” he says. On the Oxford mathematical projection predicting a Belgium vs Brazil final, Vinay says, “Well this is said to be Belgium’s golden generation. Anything can happen; but finally there is the factor of luck, destiny. It will be great to see more Indians cheering for Belgium this time.”
As we wrap up the telephone chat, he mentions his dream of seeing a “golden generation of India” in football. “Here (in Qatar) there are thousands of Indian, mostly Malayali, fans cheering for other teams. Some are surprised to see a Malayali with a World Cup team. That awe factor should go; our potential is way beyond that,” say Vinay, who lives in London with wife Dr Flomny Menon and son Abhay.
FIFA says no to OneLove armbands
Just hours before the first match on Monday, players wearing armbands in support of the “OneLove” campaign were set to take the field, FIFA warned they would be shown yellow cards — two of which lead to a player’s expulsion from that game and also the next.
Group C: Argentina vs Saudi Arabia, 3.30 PM, Mexico vs Poland, 9.30 PM
Group D: Denmark vs Tunisia, 6.30 PM, France vs Australia 12.30 AM on Wednesday