Sjoerd Marijne was naïve. He wanted the Indian players to think for themselves. The players did just that, and got him sacked.
When he took over from Roelant Oltmans last September, Marijne summoned the team for a meeting at the SAI South Centre in Bangalore with a one-point agenda. For years, foreign coaches came to India and tried to impose their style; Marijne wanted to know what made the players comfortable. Notes were scribbled and changes were introduced – zonal play, for instance, was introduced in place of man-to-man.
It became a trend after that – Marijne would do the thinking off the pitch and let the players do their thing on it, intervening only when needed. It’s a common philosophy in more evolved teams like Germany and Australia but as one of the players confessed, Indians simply do not have the necessary game knowledge to decide for themselves on the field. Marijne adopted a player-driven approach. For that, the players have driven him out. The 44-year-old, on Tuesday, was made the scapegoat for yet another sorry performance by the players. He’s sent back to the women’s team, whom he coached till seven months ago, while Harendra Singh – Indian hockey’s answer to Guus Hiddink for the number of times he’s been made the caretaker coach – gets the men’s team for an unbelievable fourth time.
The belief is that the players can do with his tough love. But for a team that hasn’t won anything of note at the world level in the last four decades, the brattishness of the men’s hockey team is confounding. The players, emboldened by Hockey India’s backing, have over the years pinned the blame squarely on the coaches without actually realising that the problem lies within.
It’s a generational problem, too. Remember when half of the team almost went on strike after Jose Brasa told them to first learn some basics like trapping the ball and passing? Individual errors, not poor strategies, resulted in India losing to Malaysia in the semifinal of the 2010 Asian Games, which brought an end to Brasa’s tenure.
Two years later, a player revolt against Michael Nobbs’s strategies ended with India finishing 12th at the London Olympics – a result that contributed to the Australian coach’s departure. Last year, senior players complained to Hockey India that Roelant Oltmans’ ideas were stale and the team was stagnating under him. Oltmans, unsurprisingly, was shown the door and seven months later, the same players have complained about Marijne’s philosophies while trying to justify their poor performance.
This was Marijne’s first brush with men’s hockey. Before coming to India, he coached the world no. 1 Dutch women’s team. But in India, he constantly found himself battling questions over team selections and his philosophies. Every minute of his seven-month stint was spent trying to gain acceptance from his players, who constantly undermined him.
In hindsight. it can be argued whether he was the right choice for a job as demanding as this one. But instead of showing patience, Hockey India panicked. A performance review meeting was held multiple times last week. It’s been a secret as to who conducted it, or was consulted.
Chief selector Harbinder Singh was unaware when PR Sreejesh replaced Manpreet Singh as the captain last week. According to reports, International Hockey Federation and Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra met seven players one-on-one. It is believed the decisions to replace the captain and swap coaches were his but delivered via the federation’s rubber-stamp general secretary Mushtaque Ahmed.
Marijne’s tenure ended the same way it began: with a phone call.
Spare a thought for the women’s team, though. While the sporting world strives for gender equality, this move smacks of gender bias. Twice now, the women’s team has been made to suffer for the sins of their male counterparts. Back in October, Hockey India deemed Marijne too good for the women, and was hence handed over the reins of the men’s team. On Tuesday, he was reassigned to the women’s team after being found not up to the mark for men, while Harendra was ‘rewarded’ for his credible show with the women’s team.
Hockey India believes the men’s team has a better chance of winning a medal than the women, and hence need more support. And while it may be true that the men face intense scrutiny compared to the women, there hasn’t been much difference in the results of the two teams in the last 12 months. Both have won Asia Cups, finished fourth at the Commonwealth Games and along the way, recorded some impressive victories in test series. The bronze in the World League is the only extra medal the men can boast of. However, the women did beat Olympic champions England in the group stage at Gold Coast.
Before the team left for the CWG, Rani Rampal and Sushila Chanu were chuffed at having a coach who understood their language and problems. A senior player, however, rued that they were not even consulted before the coach was changed, especially since their World Cup will be held in less than two months. It’s tough to see a silver lining in this but the only positive is that Marijne returns to the women’s team. He started the process a year ago which Harendra carried forward, which means the transition shouldn’t be as tough as it would’ve been otherwise. But a player admitted, it has unsettled the team.
In all this drama, the women’s team, alas, is the real loser.
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