Peillat and Menini: The ‘Argentine Europeans’ at Hockey World Cup

File Pics: Gonzalo Peillat and Joaquin Menini (Getty Images)ROURKELA (Odisha): It’s believed Christopher Zeller was the last of the penalty-corner exponents the Germans had. His flicks landed home the 2008 Olympic gold as well as Germany’s last World Cup triumph in 2006. But that box remained unchecked for over a decade after Zeller, only to get ticked in the most dramatic and unexpected way lately.In February last year, Argentina’s 2016 Rio Olympics hero Gonzalo Peillat pulled on a German jersey and had all eyes on him. In under a minute of the start, he converted a penalty corner to put Germany ahead in the Pro League game against Spain.But the background to that is not a story Peillat wants to revisit. In fact, he wasn’t even replying to Timesofindia.com’s requests for a chat until his friend and former teammate Joaquin Menini stepped in to facilitate it.Joaquin Menini (Pic Credit: Real Federación Española de Hockey)Interestingly, Menini, also a 2016 Olympics winner with Argentina, has also switched loyalties and plays for Spain now.Both Peillat and Menini are in Odisha for the Men’s Hockey World cup, but the latter was the first to reply to a call for an interview, while messages sent to Peillat remained unseen. “To be honest, it (changing nationalities) is something that I try to not remember anymore because I already spoke about it a lot. For me, it’s something that has ended, it’s completely finished,” said the 31-year-old striker Menini, who played 110 matches for Argentina, talking to Timesofindia.com.Gonzalo Peillat (Photo credit: Peillat’s Twitter handle)THE BACKGROUNDThe story goes like this: Both Peillat and Menini found themselves cornered after the 2018 World Cup, when they opposed some of the things they found were wrong within the team and the way it was being run.Precisely, there was growing conflict between the Peillat group and Augustin Mazzilli, who was the skipper at that time, and the then Argentina coach German Orozco. But tensions had started brewing before that, because of which coach Carlos Retegui, who guided the team to the top of the 2016 Olympic podium, had quit.It didn’t take long for Peillat and Menini to disappear from the radar of the Argentine federation. Menini was the first to lose favour, soon followed by his close friend Peillat. But both continued their club careers — Menini at Den Bosch in the Netherlands and Peillat at the German side Mannheimer HC.Joaquin Menini (Pic Credit: Real Federación Española de Hockey)THE REASONS Menini was generous enough to put in a word to Peillat, and the blue ticks on the messages to him soon had a blue colour.”I was talking with Menini yesterday. He said, ‘hey, there is a person (this reporter) who wants to talk to you and he has sent you a couple of messages but I don’t think you have replied,” said Peillat, the top-scorer of the 2016 Olympics, who was seen in blue and white stripes in 153 matches for Argentina.He started the conversation on the same note as Menini.”I think it is a topic that is already in the past,” said Peillat, who is 30.”I try to just ensure to play hockey, not talking about what happened in the past and why I took that decision (to switch to Germany), what happened after the (2016 Rio) Olympics in Argentina. I think if I have the option to choose about this topic, I will just try to avoid and live in the present.That’s the most important thing as a player, and also as a person, to try to live in the present and try to enjoy that.”Gonzalo Peillat (Pic credit: Peillat’s Instagram)The PC specialist, a dreaded drag-flicker in Argentine colours, has already made 12 appearances for Germany, who expect him to do a Zeller at the World Cup in the Odisha cities of Rourkela and Bhubaneswar from January 13 to 29.Peillat has clearly moved on, but he still touched upon the reasons for his decision to change.”I decided to just change for the future of Argentina, because of too much politics, players’ friendships with a trainer or with confederation. They didn’t want to change. That’s why I made my decision. I said, ‘Okay, if we want to keep going in this way, I could not accept it. This is not my way’,” said Peillat, who is familiar with Odisha more than others as he played for the Kalinga Lancers in the Hockey India League.Like Peillat, Menini too doesn’t regret his decision, especially after he was asked to return from the doorstep of a tour ahead of the Pro League in 2019 because he too took a stand against some of the decisions.”If I can tell you in a few words, it is that I didn’t like what I saw in those years in the Argentina team,” said Menini talking to Timesofindia.com.”I didn’t like what I saw from the leaders and from the people who had to make decisions. Some call it politics, but there were a lot of things that I didn’t like. When I was with the team, I tried to change it in some way, but that was not possible. Then when I was kicked out without any fair explanation, I saw myself completely on the opposite side of the whole national team.”Then I completely quit, decided to not play for Argentina again because I saw that things were not going to change,” he added.Joaquin Menini (Photo credit: Menini’s Twitter handle)MENINI GOES TO SPAINMenini held a Spanish passport, and Caldas, who was appointed Spain’s coach, swooped in on an opportunity.Caldas gave Menini a call to see if he was interested in exploring an opportunity to play for Spain. “He (Caldas) called me last year. He heard that I had a Spanish passport and we have a friend in common. He put us in contact, and then Max called me…Then I thought about it and figured that it was a good idea,” said Menini.Hearing that development, the Argentine federation rang up Menini.”Before I joined the Spanish team, the coach of Argentina (Mariano Ronconi) called me, but I said no, because I saw that things were not going to change and I still think the same and I see some things that are still the same…I don’t regret it at all,” said Menini.Menini’s first game in Spanish colours on Indian soil will be against the hosts on the opening day of the World Cup on Friday.”Well, I think India has a really good team, a lot of talented players. We already played four times, I think. this year against each other. We can see that they have great players and a great team. And, of course, playing at home must be like an extra boost.(Pic credit: Gonzalo Peillat Intagram)CAN PEILLAT REPEAT ZELLER’S FEATS FOR GERMANY?Making a switch to a new set-up has its own challenges, however comfortable and welcome you may feel.Peillat has played just a dozen games for Germany, and by his own admission, it takes time to settle into a routine with altogether a different set of players, especially when it comes to penalty-corner routines.”Of course, one of the thing is that I can add something pretty good to the penalty corners for Germany…But it’s not like ‘Gonzalo is coming’…I need to get used to the stopper, to the injector, get used to all these people and then probably we will have a really nice corner,” said Peillat.