Salman Akbar's exceptional talents under the bar mean he has been a much sought after goalkeeper by club sides in different countries till today, at the age of 35
Today, hockey is one of the fastest field games. Abolishing the off-side rule, introduction of self-pass and softening of obstruction and turning rules along with rolling substitution have greatly increased the pace of the game.
The midfield game has decreased considerably with most of the action within the 23 metre area. Consequently, there are far more circle penetrations and attempts on the goal these days. It is not uncommon to see the ball entering the circle more than 40 times in a 60-minute match. Hence the goalkeeper is called into action very frequently.
The net-minder today holds the most vital position in a team. This has led to the emergence of goalkeeping academies. Yes, academies specialising in goalkeepers’ training.
In the Netherlands, where 350,000, out of the total population of 16.8 million, regularly play the sport, quite a few goalkeeping academies are functioning. One of them is SGK (Salman Goalkeeper) Academy, run by Pakistan’s former hockey captain Salman Akbar, who represented the country under the bar for more than a decade (2001-13).
"I have been playing league hockey in the Netherlands since 2008. The year 2013 was my last in international hockey. I wanted some new challenge; hence SGK was born in 2014," says Salman. "It has gone from strength to strength and now I have 10 trainers working under my supervision. Most of them are 17- or 18-year-old boys and girls, who apart from coaching, also play for age group teams of top tier clubs.
"My team of goalkeeping trainers includes a lady who plays for the Dutch Veterans team. They are all qualified coaches with the basic goalkeeping coaching diploma from Royal Dutch Hockey Association (KNHB)."
Salman himself holds the advanced goalkeeping coaching diploma. "We offer primarily two kinds of services. There are budding goalkeepers’ clinics where sometimes up to 40 youngsters are given training, requiring a number of trainers.
Then there are league teams who ask for individual coaching for their net-minders. Mostly, I personally carry out such assignments.
"Apart from the on-field coaching, teaching is also carried out through multi media. In winter break, occasionally indoor coaching clinics are conducted.
"For clubs’ goalkeepers, there are separate programmes for pre-season training and during the competition training. Pre-season trainings mainly concentrate on fitness and agility, refining skills and rhythm, fine tuning.
"During the competition, the training programme is more specific due to the league matches. It revolves around match situations, evaluation of the last match via video sessions as well as feedback from the team coach and preparation for the next game."
Despite the SGK engagements, Salman is still active in the Dutch League, the world’s most competitive domestic hockey competition.
This season, he played for HV Victoria. His former Dutch clubs include Laren, from 2008-13 when the world famous Roelant Oltman coached the team.
Next, he appeared for Amersfoort for three seasons before joining Victoria.
A goalkeeper in demand, he has had stints in other countries as well.
Salman plied his trade in India’s now defunct Premier Hockey League (PHL) from 2006-2008 where he appeared for a different side each year: Hyderabad Sultans, Orissa Steelers and Sher-e-Jallandhars; winning the title in 2007 with the Orissa Steelers. Early this month, January 2017, he kept goal for Butali Sugar Warriors of Kenya in the African Cup for Club Champions. His side finished third.
Salman is ready to offer his services to Pakistan. "Every year, I spend around two months in Pakistan. In January 2016, the PHF had arranged a camp for 12 junior goalkeepers. I coached them for two weeks. Two of those boys, Ali Raza and Muneeb, went on to play for Pakistan under-21. I will be happy to carry out such assignments in future too."
An accomplished goalkeeper
The tall goalkeeper debuted for Pakistan in 2001. In his international career, he appeared in 230 international matches, including three World Cups, two Olympics, two Commonwealth Games and three Asian Games.
He achieved many personal distinctions: he was nominated for the FIH Young Player of the Year in 2004; he was the only Pakistani to be nominated for the World Player of the Year in 2005; in 2007, he became only the fourth goalkeeper to captain Pakistan; he was the only Pakistani selected in Men’s World Hockey All Star team in 2009.
When Pakistan won gold at the 2010 Asian games, it was their first title, global or continental, since 1994; they haven’t won any since. Salman played a stellar role in that victory which also meant Pakistan directly qualified for the 2012 London Olympics. He performed heroically in the semi-final against Korea; saving three penalty strokes in the shootout. He achieved a personal distinction as well: selection in the Asian All Star team after the 2010 Asian Games.
He also won a silver (2006) and a bronze (2002) at the Commonwealth Games, plus a bronze at the 2006 Asian Games.
Salman’s exceptional talents under the bar mean he has been a much sought after goalkeeper by club sides in different countries till today, at the age of 35.