A fortnight after the Commonwealth Games debacle, the men’s hockey team reassembled in Bangalore with a new captain and sans the coach. On Friday, as the camp got underway at the SAI South Centre, Hockey India named PR Sreejesh as the captain for the remainder of the year. The goalkeeper takes over the reins from centre-half Manpreet Singh, who was one of the few bright spots for India in Gold Coast. However, there’s stoic silence on Sjoerd Marijne’s continuity as the chief coach.
A key decision-maker, who has held multiple meetings this week, said an announcement on the Dutchman’s future is imminent over the weekend. A final meeting of Hockey India officials is expected to take place on Saturday and the role of high performance director David John, too, being scrutinised. Curiously, with the camp underway and his role is being examined by his employers, Marijne is in Holland. After a short break post the Commonwealth Games, he was scheduled to return in time for the camp but ‘visa issues’ have delayed his arrival. When contacted, Marijne refused to comment on the issue.
Marijne’s position came under scanner after India endured one of its most lackluster tournaments in recent years at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this month. The team was stretched in every match, including by minnows Wales, and eventually finished fourth – their worst finish since the 2006 edition. As much as the result, the performance of the team too has drawn a lot of flak. A senior official, who has been conducting the post-mortem this week, said it was a matter of concern that the team looked so disjointed despite the facilities provided to them. “They have been given world-class facilities to train and there have been no shortage of matches to prepare. We have spoken to the players and changes are already made there. A decision on the coach should have been taken by now but we will make an announcement over the weekend,” the official said.
The players, it is learnt, are not entirely happy with Marijne’s philosophies. A senior member of the team said the coach’s inexperience of managing a team in big events was felt at the Commonwealth Games, which was Marijne’s first major assignment since taking charge last October. The Dutch coach’s player-driven approach and selection policy, too, have been criticised. “There were too many young players included for the CWG; that process should have been gradual. Also, since most of us did not play a tournament going before the Games, the lack of match practice was evident. All other teams, including Australia and England, sent full-strength teams for Azlan Shah while we were at the camp. So his planning wasn’t up to mark and that’s where his inexperience as coach showed,” a team member said.
Marijne has defended his policies, insisting that ‘one bad tournament does not mean they restructure their whole approach.’ However, it is believed that current women’s team coach Harendra Singh is already seen as a replacement if Marijne is shown the door this weekend. Harendra led the junior national team to World Cup title at home in 2016. With a little more than six months to go before India hosts the senior World Cup, Harendra’s familiarity with the men’s team as well as the opponents puts him in pole position for the role. Where that will leave the women’s team, who have a World Cup of their own in July, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the decision to replace Manpreet as the captain is seen as a cosmetic move to paper the cracks. Apart from Sreejesh and SV Sunil, Manpreet was the only other player who had some impact in the tournament. It is widely believed that the burden of leading a young side was severely impacting Manpreet’s game and his leadership qualities were being questioned, especially in pressure situations. But merely making Sreejesh the leader will not solve India’s on-field woes.
Whether the change of leadership is the only outcome of the Gold Coast debacle, or if it will end up costing Marijne his job, remains to be seen.