Luis Garcia during his time with ATK. (TOI Photo)
KOLKATA: The wait is over. La Liga is back with ‘El Gran Derbi’ between Sevilla FC and Real Betis on Thursday.
While Lionel Messi and Co.’s return to the field is an “amazing” news for the world of football, former Spanish international Luis Garcia feels it is the mind over matter which is going to dictate the course and contour of the game in coming days.
The process of football’s return to action – in Germany and elsewhere – following the unexpected break thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, has been based on Fifa‘s strict guidelines on safety. If playing in front of empty stadiums is a new normal, players have also been asked to hold their emotions – especially in times of goal celebrations – in leash. This is where, Garcia feels, the game is going to be a tad more “psychological” than physical.
“Being physical is the key to the game. But what you have on your mind is also important now. If you score a goal, you can’t celebrate by hugging your teammates. If you go around, you won’t hear the noise. You need to adapt to this new situation. This is why, La Liga teams and others are allowing players to work with sports psychologists now,” Garcia, a former Indian Super League winner with ATK and now acting as La Liga ambassador, told TOI in an exclusive interview.
“It’s not that this is something new. It has been there on the table for many years. When I was playing in 2005-2006, I used to work with a sports psychologist to focus more on the game. But given the situation we are in now, this is imperative that players may have to pay attention to their mind as well, may be more than before,” said the attacking midfielder, who played for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid as well as a Champions League winner with Liverpool.
According to him, football’s return to action, even in empty stadiums, is vital for the game’s business fabric as well.
“We all have missed football for long. We have missed so many things, including the jobs it creates around the word. In La Liga, around 5000 people work. It’s also important for Indian and Asian audience. Finally, we are back and people can watch it. The market around it can also breathe,” he maintained.
Having been the ISL’s first marquee player and helped ATK win the inaugural season of the franchisee league in 2014, Garcia has seen Indian football grow at close quarters. With the All Indian Football Federation having declared that the 2020-2021 domestic season will begin from August 1, Garcia also has a word of advice for the federation to follow in the times of pandemic.
“The first and foremost is players’ safety. This should be the priority when the government gives its go-ahead to the resumption of the game,” he said.
The 41-year-old, however, stressed that the AIFF should focus more on grassroots development. “It’s good to have a group of 17-21 years of players and make them play against different teams around the world. You have to continue working on that. This is how you can bring the likes of Sunil Chhetris more in the national team,” he remarked.
The City of Joy is still fresh in Garcia’s mind as he recalled various visits to temples and the celebration of Diwali in Kolkata. The Spaniard, however, insisted that he is unlikely to get involved in Indian football immediately, despite having been approached earlier.
“It’s true that I had got an offer to work in Indian football. But right now, I’m doing a coaching license and is focusing solely on that,” he signed off.
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