Immediately after the Rio Olympics, Roelant Oltmans had a brief, yet significant, message for his players: the core group of players for 2018 World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Games will be shuffled when the team regroups in March 2017.
Their performance in junior World Cup and Hockey India League, the senior team coach told the players, will be an important criteria for inclusion.
The junior team’s World Cup win has him in a dilemma. But Oltmans, who was speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange on Wednesday, is pleased with what he has seen, especially with the ‘one or two’ who raised their performances during the semifinal and final, where India beat Australia and Belgium respectively.
“Because of that (his message) there was a bit of pressure on these youngsters. It wasn’t just the pressure of winning the junior world cup but also the pressure of taking the next step in their careers,” Oltmans said.
“I saw the guys cope with it. Especially one or two who waited for the final two matches. The most important ones, the great ones always showcase themselves in the final two matches. I was pleased to see that.”
Two days before the junior World Cup began in Lucknow, Oltmans extended his contract with the senior side up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Now, he is faced with the task of phasing out the senior players and blooding youngsters in the team with an eye on the 2018 World Cup, which will be held in Bhubaneswar.
The Dutchman, though, says he will first let the players decide for themselves rather than abruptly shunning them from the programme. “I have a lot of individual meetings with players throughout the year, where I tell them how their development is going, what my expectations are… Also, when I feel that it’s time he should think about his future, I will tell him honestly. The best way to do it is to tell them yourself,” the 62-year-old said.
He added: “If you have to tell a player that a youngster is coming, you can do it two ways. The old system is you have selectors. But at a certain moment, they’ll decide and suddenly, the player will find his name isn’t there (in the team). I don’t like it that way. Players have served the country for a long time on a very high level. They have the right to know why you have taken a decision. So I try to explain it to them why such a decision is taken.”
Oltmans dropped a hint that some players may announce their retirement after the HIL. “Most players have their future plans in place. I know it’s disappointment some times. But it’s also a relief. I know already players who have decided to retire after the Hockey India League. I won’t say names because I feel it’s their decision,” he said.
Oltmans, who began his tenure in India as a high performance director before being formally named the chief coach last year, joined the junior team a month before the World Cup as the manager.
The team, coached by Harendra Singh, maintained an unbeaten run throughout before beating Belgium in the final to be crowned Junior World champions after a gap of 15 years.
The team’s aggressive style and unity impressed Oltmans, who praised Harendra for the bonding among the players.
“Harendra did a very good job in binding (the team) and had very good personal relationship with the players. Some of them went through terrible things during the process. We all know the story of (goalkeeper Krishan) Pathak, who lost his father a couple of months ago. During such moments, Harendra was fantastic. No doubt about it,” Oltmans said.
However, the former Holland and Pakistan coach’s task to ensure a smooth transition will be a tough one.
At his office on Tuesday, Oltmans was going through the teams that were selected for a few tournaments in 2013 and 2014, and was surprised to find that most of the players ‘were out of the system.’
“In pro soccer, they have done research and concluded that in a certain age group – let’s say 20 players in the development squad – 1.5 to 2 percent will make the (senior) squad. The number of players graduating from junior team to senior is not too many,” he said. “When I saw that list, indeed so many of them are going out. From the group of players last time (2013 junior World Cup), we had a lot of players coming in. But don’t expect all of them to be in the national team because that will not happen.”