Having spoken to his peers and observed Indian hockey from a distance, Paul van Ass knows managing the team isn’t restricted to the dressing room alone. The Dutchman arrived in India on the weekend armed with a book on the country’s sociological demographics, which he hopes will help him understand the players better.
And he was on the job on Monday morning, supervising a two-hour session that kicked off the national camp at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in New Delhi. Van Ass, who inherits a strong team from the Terry Walsh era along with a cameo coaching role by Roelant Oltmans, was introduced to the players during breakfast where he is believed to have told them to ‘aim for a podium finish at the Rio Games and target nothing less than that.’
India is so far the only country to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games and Van Ass’s first major assignment will be the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia from April 5 to 12. The selection trials for the tournament — which will feature teams like Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Canada and hosts Malaysia — will be held on March 20
Hockey India high performance director Oltmans, who was the interim coach before Van Ass was appointed, said there will not be much change in the style of play India has adopted. Over the last 12 months, India had improved defensively and there was more structure to the way the team played, apart from being effective on counterattacks.
Oltmans said he expects his compatriot to bring more details into the process that began two years ago. “We started a process two years ago and we will continue the progress we have made. Paul will bring his own details into the programme. Terry (Walsh) had done that, (Michael) Nobbs had done it, I had done that as well. Now it’s Paul’s turn. The perspective remains the same. We will look into what happens when we are in possession and not in possession, during turnover movements, etc. These are the details we will focus on but overall, I don’t think things will change much,” Oltmans said.
India had a light intensity training session on Monday, with 32 players reporting for the camp. Gurwinder Singh Chandi is recovering from an injury and won’t join the camp at the moment. “The selection trials will be held on Friday. We had our first training session under Paul today,” Oltmans said.
‘Not a saviour’
Before his departure for India, Van Ass told a Dutch website in an interview that the India job was something he found ‘really cool’ to do. “I really need to look more deeply into the culture. Hockey is almost an afterthought. It is difficult to fathom how the country fits together sociologically. A friend has given me a beautiful book about it,” he was quoted as saying.
As coach of the Dutch team, whom he helped win a silver medal at London Games, Van Ass was praised for his man-management skills more than his tactical approach. The focus is likely to remain the same in India as well. “I need to understand how they look at a lot of things and how the ratios are in the team,” he said. However, he said he is yet to determine if it’s realistic to expect a podium finish in Rio. “I’m going to give them signals that I am not the only saviour. We haven’t spoken about an Olympic medal yet. But in the end, I will try to see if it is realistic to be a medal contender in Rio,” he said