Mumbai:After being down in the dumps since failing to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1928, the Indian men's hockey team is aiming to resurrect itself under the guidance of Spaniard Jose Brasa.
The first step in the bid to revive the sagging fortunes of the country's national game, is the four-nation European tour that the team has now embarked on under new chief coach Brasa.
Brasa advice to Indian hockey to forget about the country's past glory, signified by its eight Olympic gold medals till 1980, would not have gone down well with the hockey stalwarts of the past.
The Spaniard's pointed reference that hockey in India is content to rest on laurels earned almost three decades ago and that its players have not adapted to the amended international rules are bitter pills to swallow for the hockey fans.
"Indian hockey seems to be living in the past. My task is to ensure that they (players) change their pattern of play to produce better results," were his words before departing for Europe to play 12 Test matches against higher ranked teams England, Belgium, Spain and Netherlands.
Brasa has been brought in to pilot Indian hockey back to the pinnacle of glory it enjoyed before the prolonged slump that resulted in the team's failure to qualify for last year's Beijing Olympics.
The slide down the pecking order for Indian hockey, which has now resulted in the country being ranked outside the top 10 among men, has been gradual but the powers that be were indifferent to what lay in store for too long.
The slump started much before the advent of the artificial turf in 1976, but the World Cup triumph of 1975 in Kuala Lumpur made the authorities turn a blind eye to the reality that while the western countries progressed, India remained stagnant.
The Olympic gold in the boycott-hit 1980 Moscow Olympic Games also came as a false dawn and the deepening crisis manifested itself when India finished with the wooden spoon by ending up 12th in the 1986 Willesden World Cup.
Since then it has been one disaster followed by another and a litany of excuses in the Olympics and World Cups barring the 1998 title triumph after 22 years at the Bangkok Asian Games which was spearheaded by the mercurial Dhanraj Pillai.
A largely non-functional federation with the president and secretary clinging to their posts even as the national team continued to plumb the depths was poor advertisement for the game among the masses.
The final nail on the coffin came when the team failed to get past Britain and clinch the lone Beijing Games qualifier's berth at the tournament in Chile in early 2008.
The backlash and the sting operation that followed led to the ouster of KPS Gill and K Jothikumaran from the precincts of hockey power and to the formation of an adhoc body to run the game by the Indian Olympic Association.
Further pressure applied by a concerned International Hockey Federation with threats to take away the hosting rights of next year's World Cup and bar the team's entry in international tournaments resulted in the launch of a unified men's and women's body Hockey India.
All these are administrative happenings which will not cut much ice with the public unless the team returns to its long-forgotten winning ways in the hockey majors like Olympics, World Cups, Asian Games and Champions Trophies.
2010 is a crucial year to chart the progress of the team with the March World Cup to be followed by the October Commonwealth Games and the subsequent Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
It's upto Brasa to whip the team into a win-hungry outfit that's capable of taking on the best in the world.