When Santiago Freixa first burst on the hockey scene in 2000, he was a precocious teenager oozing loads of talent.
Four years later, the Spaniard not only won the FIH Young Player of the Year award for his brilliant performances at the Athens Olympics, but also helped his team win the elite Champions Trophy for the first time ever. He was also part of the Spanish team that won the European Nations tournament in 2005 by defeating hosts Germany in the final.
At 23, he is rated among the most skilful and dangerous forwards in the game today, and is an important member of the Spanish national team.
And come February 9, the prolific striker will be one of the biggest stars in action during the Premier Hockey League's second leg in Chandigarh.
Currently based in Argentina, Freixa told HT he was looking forward to playing in India. “I knew about the PHL from Juan Escarre,” he told HT from Buenos Aires.
Former Spanish captain Escarre had played in the inaugural edition of the PHL in 2005. “Escarre told me about his experiences of two years ago. I am really excited about coming to India.
With Spanish national coach Maurits Hendriks acting as a consultant to the PHL, besides being responsible for recruiting foreign players, it wasn’t very difficult for Freixa to get an offer to play in the league — he’ll be playing for Sher-e-Jalandhar.
His only previous visits to India came in 2004, for a two-match series before the 2004 Champions Trophy, and 2005, when Chennai hosted the tournament.
“Indian hockey is very exciting and I have been told that the PHL has very interesting concepts. I am looking forward to playing with and against some of the top Indian stars — who are very skilful — and to the experience of playing in Indian stadiums.
“Actually, I expect to do a lot and learn many things during my one month stay in India — about Indian culture, people, traditions and, above all, about Indian hockey. It will be a very different experience.”
Freixa, who comes from a family of hockey lovers — four of his uncles played for the Spanish national team — said though he was interested in playing through the entire two-month duration of the PHL, things could not work out.
“After the World Cup (in September), I have been working for a company in Argentina (Cementos Avellaneda), and my contract with them finishes only at the end of January 2007. Therefore, it is not possible for me to play in Chennai, although I want to.”
Along with Jamie Dwyer of Australia and Shakeel Abbasi of Pakistan, Freixa forms the lethal threesome of forwards playing in world hockey.
And with the other two also confirmed to play in the PHL this time around, expect a surfeit of goals. And some thrilling action.