Some three years ago, rumour had it that Lionel Messi is an ardent fan of British rock band Oasis. That rumour, though, was dispelled rather quickly and quite easily — after all, having played all his life in Spanish-speaking countries, English does not come naturally to the star footballer, let alone the thick Manchester accent of the band's lead vocalist.
Messi, in all probability, won't be leaving Barcelona for United or City, not until he brushes up on his English anyway. Language, in fact, is a barrier that many sportspersons, not just footballers, find quite difficult to overcome. And when the Hockey India League began, many speculated that co-ordination between the Indian players and the internationals might pose a problem.
It did, but not for long, not for all five teams anyway. A fortnight down the line, the only team with a local coach is sitting pretty, undefeated and atop the table. Excluding India’s, six flags are on display on the roster of Delhi Waveriders; only the Ranchi Rhinos' squad, with players from seven foreign nations, is more diverse.
How the unit managed to gel so soon, coach AK Bansal is unsure, except perhaps that most have a common language they can speak in. Rupinderpal Singh, the team's drag-flicking specialist, feels it helps to have an Indian staff: “Anyone has a problem, be it a youngster or a foreigner, they are easy to approach.”
German forward Oskar Deecke credits the man at the helm: “It's definitely helped to have an Indian coach, one who can speak in the local tongue as well as English.”
There is one person who doesn't, though. But Spanish left-half Andres Mir Bel hasn't let that bog him down. Being around a teammate from his home club has perhaps helped — both Bel and Deecke represent Madrid-based Club de Campo Villa. “I just joined the club in September,” said Deecke. “But I can underst-and Spanish, and speak a bit, too.”
The bit seems to have worked --- asked to pick a standout player from among the foreign nationals, Bansal went for the unassuming Spaniard: “He's not flashy, but he has been outstanding.”
In the meantime, Deecke claims to have also picked up a bit of the local lingo: “Maybe just 'hello' and 'how are you?' but that's four languages now!”
There are other European imports that can spout the occasional Hindi. Like Jaap Stockma-nn. “Thodi thodi Hindi jaante hai,” said the Punjab Warriors' Dutch goalie upon being quizzed at the pre-match presser on Monday.
For the Warriors, it's better late than never. After losing their first three matches, they have won three and drawn one in their last four. If Stockmann is to be believed, far fewer instructions are being lost in translation now. As he departed, in walked Delhi skipper Sardar Singh. After a short chat, the Dutchman signed off: “Sat sri akal.” Almost perfect.