Sacked by Hockey India for not having a clear roadmap for the national team, Roelant Oltmans has been roped in by the Madhya Pradesh government to prepare a blueprint for the academies in their state.
The Dutchman was appointed as the consultant for the academies in Bhopal and Gwalior, along with feeder centres across the state, by Madhya Pradesh sports minister Yasodhara Raje Scindia. He assumed his new role on November 2 and is contracted up to January 1, 2021. “The Madhya Pradesh government has a number of academies and they have their coaches. I will try to give my knowledge and information to them along with the directors and the (state) sports minister,” Oltmans tells The Indian Express from Gwalior.
Oltmans first came to India as a high performance director in 2013 before he was made the men’s team chief coach two years later. He was credited with bringing stability in the team that looked divided due to constant chopping and changing of players. Under him, the national team won medals at the Champions Trophy and World League finals while he also played a crucial role in India winning the junior World Cup last year.
However, Hockey India sacked him in September following India’s disastrous performance at the World League semifinals earlier this year, replacing him with compatriot Sjoerd Marijne. The decision, although not a complete surprise, did infuriate Oltmans.
He was approached by the Madhya Pradesh government soon after he became a ‘free agent’. “I have been in good contact with people in Madhya Pradesh. I have been at their academies before and both times it was a positive experience. Some time back, their girls’ team was in Holland for camps and competitions and I helped them there. So when they got to know I am a free-agent, they contacted me to ask if I was interested,” Oltmans says.
A thing of the past
Oltmans did not hesitate in accepting the offer despite the bitter break-up with his former employers. “I see this as working for the Madhya Pradesh state government, let us make things very clear. And I had no hesitation (in saying yes) because my past experience and relations with people in the state government have been positive and it still is,” he says. Madhya Pradesh is regarded as one of the cradles of Indian hockey, producing several international stars–mainly for the women’s team. At the Rio Olympics last year, seven players in the women’s squad were from the Gwalior-based Madhya Pradesh Women’s Hockey Academy.
When he was the country’s high performance director, one of Oltmans’s key responsibilities was to develop more such academies across the country and streamline the talent-identification process. But his critics alleged he focused only on the senior teams while not doing enough to develop the grassroots. Hockey India’s plans for launching an academy, too, never materialised.
At a micro level, that will be his task in Madhya Pradesh. The state has 29 feeder centres and Oltmans has been tasked with designing a system which will see the best players from these centres graduate to the main academies in Bhopal and Gwalior. “We tried to make a couple of things happen and we weren’t successful in that area. We have to be honest about that. It is not easy as you need enough manpower to make it happen,” Oltmans says.
No manpower issues
Manpower, he hopes, will not be an issue here. These academies have been in existence for roughly a decade. And in former India coach MK Kaushik, in charge of the men’s academy in Bhopal, and women’s academy coach Paramjit Singh, he has reliable allies.
“It’s not something you start today and will be done tomorrow. You need to work for three years in a proper way to make things happen,” he says.
His first task, he says, will be to change the recruitment policies at the centres. “By the time some of the players reach the academy, they are around 13-14 year old. They are very old and we are losing important period in learning,” he says. “We want to start from around eight years old. Not just at the academies but also the feeder centres.”
Unlike his previous role with the national team, Oltmans is not expected to spend the whole year at the camps. Instead, he will be working for three or four months annually. “So it will be relaxing in that sense. Also, you have to do things a bit differently than you do with a national team. Here, you don’t have competition every two weeks. And if you do, people look at results in a different way than the national team,” he says. “But for me, it’s not very different. There you work with the top-level players. Here, you want to create top-level players for India.”