Hindustan Times, Kolkata
It took the coordinated effort of multiple embassies, two plane rides and a 16-hour layover in Helsinki for Thomas Dennerby to get home.
The repatriation flight on March 31 needed the involvement of the embassies of Sweden, Finland and other Baltic states, according to Dennerby, the coach of the India under-17 women’s football team that was supposed to debut in the age-specific World Cup at home in November. The meet stands postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic and Fifa has not yet announced the new dates.
“During these times everyone’s families need them as much as they need their families. It is important to be home. The current crisis allows everyone to see life from a larger perspective,” said the Swede in an interview over e-mail. From Goa, Dennerby, 60, said he flew to Helsinki and then to Stockholm after a long stopover. The flying time from Goa to Helsinki is 16 hours. “The arrangements were fine and we flew safe,” he said.
“The break is nothing to be worried about. Under the current situation, human lives are priority and it was natural that all footballing activities would be postponed,” said Dennerby, who was appointed in November, 2019 after a stint with Nigeria whom he took to the 2019 Women’s World Cup and made them African champions in 2018.
The 32 players in the preparatory camp were on a break since March 13 and were scheduled to resume training on April 1. Had plans not been mothballed they would have been in Europe this month. “Most likely we would have been playing a tournament in Slovenia (in April) and maybe also in Italy (in May),” Dennerby, a former midfielder with Stockholm’s Hammarby IF, said.
“We have been working hard in camps (in Goa) but the real test is when you get to play quality opponents.”
On return from Europe, the squad would have trained in Goa with specific focus on tactics. “The camps in Goa were to be tough and they were to be backed by matches against tougher international opponents. This is the World Cup and we need to be merciless.”
Dennerby said the players improved rapidly at first but the pace slowed as they got better. “When you get better again it’s tougher to take the next few steps. We would have been ready in November anyway (but) the extra time (due to the deferment) could be an advantage.”
Especially since mental strength is a work in progress for the team, said Dennerby.
“Our search is on for mentally tough characters who can be super confident in front of so many spectators. You cannot develop than in an instant. Rather, we have been propagating it through our training regimes and off the field. The girls are getting to that level, they are getting closer,” he said.
Coaches and athletes across disciplines have spoken of the forced break leading to a dip in fitness levels but Dennerby isn’t throwing his weight behind that lot. “I am not worried at all. The girls have been given individual programmes. Their attitude has been fantastic. I get their numbers (data) on my laptop and mobile phone. They are doing really good. Fitness-wise there won’t be any dip at all,” he said.
Asking India to “be safe, practice hygiene and social distancing,” Dennerby said it is important to stay positive now.
“Sweden has taken a different approach. You can go to the bars or restaurants but you need to maintain social distancing,” he said. He is doing that in a country that is not shut down.
A BBC report said Stockholm night clubs were open and people allowed leave homes after a long winter. However, many are remote working and that there has been a 50% drop in passengers in public transport.
“Even though it was Easter, we did not go to visit relatives and friends. We just went to the supermarket to get what we needed. Everyone is waiting for normal life to restart,” said Dennerby, who coached Sweden to a third-place finish in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. “We cannot see anyone around. It’s a bit boring but it’s more important to be safe and help others not to get infected. I look forward to come back to India and kick-off training once again,” said Dennerby, who is currently with his wife in the municipality of Tyreso, some 25km from Stockholm.
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