As the Indian team begins its rebuilding phase under newly-appointed coach Roelant Oltmans, captain Sardar Singh tells The Indian Express that even though it is frustrating to see coaches come and go, Paul van Ass’s departure won’t have a big impact.
He also added that he was shocked to hear about the disciplinary action taken against right-half Gurbaj Singh and insisted there are no factions within the team. Excerpts from an interview.
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With the Olympics just a year away, is it a setback to see coach Paul Van Ass leave?
It’s not that big a setback. What has happened is between coach, Hockey India and SAI. The good thing is none of us let it affect us. There is a lot of positivity within the team. We are focusing on our task. Our job is to play. There is not much time left for the Olympics and as a team, our focus should be on the preparations for the Games. But it’s a good thing that Roelant Oltmans has joined the team as chief coach. His appointment is a blessing in disguise. Tushar (Khandker) has also joined the team (as assistant coach). We are learning a lot from him as well.
So is it a fresh start, then?
No, not really. The best part about whatever has happened is that Roelant has been with the team for the last three years and knows the positives and negatives of every player. He has been there at almost every training session and tour of ours. So it’s not really a new beginning in that sense. Our idea is to start doing what we did last year. I think the team was in its best shape in 2014. I spoke to Roelant and told we should play the same way we played last year. The idea is to keep it simple.
Is it frustrating to see coaches go?
It is frustrating for players. Every coach has his own style and has different expectations from you. All players need to tweak their game according to the plans of new coach. But in the end, we have to adjust to it.
What is the reason for some mediocre performances this year?
I think our performances this year have been very good. When a new coach comes, he has his own ideas and thinking. Paul van Ass had introduced several changes to the side as well. For instance, Gurbaj (Singh) usually plays in as a right half but Paul made him play as a right link.
He perhaps thought Gurbaj would be handy in that position with Dharamvir Singh playing a more forward role. He used players his way for the betterment for the team. We won bronze at Azlan Shah.
The Japan test series, our second tournament under him, was used as an opportunity to test youngsters. And we missed five key players in the World League, all of whom were out with injuries. We didn’t have a penalty corner specialist as both VR Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh were injured and missed out.
But against top nations in the World League semifinals, the team looked clueless.
We perhaps over-reacted with regard to World League performance. We conceded four-five goals in one match at World League. But we aren’t that bad. We missed key players. Like I said, five to six important players were injured. If they were around, there was no way we would have lost so badly. We still finished fourth, which isn’t bad. We got to know which player is comfortable at which position and how he deals with pressure. These are important things to know before the Olympics. We are working hard and the competitive level within the team is pretty high.
There have been suggestions that players found Paul’s style confusing. Was that the case?
Maybe that was because we really had a very short time with him. He could not share all his ideas with us as he got just three-four months. If he would have stayed longer, he would have been able to explain to us his strategies and reasons behind his decisions in a better way.
Gurbaj Singh has been accused of creating ‘factions’ and ‘spoiling the atmosphere of the team’ and Hockey India has taken disciplinary action against him. As captain, what are your thoughts?
Gurbaj told me on Monday morning that he has been charged for indiscipline. I told him as a captain, I was not aware of it. We have different sets of meetings among players every day.
I met Sreejesh, Raghunath and a few other players in the team and they too were not aware (of action against Gurbaj). Maybe he will share his views with the disciplinary committee during the hearing. I am shocked to hear all these things.
Is it true that there are ‘factions’ in the team?
Absolutely not. If Gurbaj said it, and I don’t know if he has, it must be for the good of the team. Look we say some things on the field but it stays there and it should be that way. Those things are said in heat of the moment and we get over it immediately.
So it is wrong to bring these issues up. The reason we performed so well last year was that as a unit, we were all together. It was a happy family.
We need to ensure it stays that way. Moreover, there are many junior players in the team who have 10, 15 years of hockey ahead of them. As seniors, it is our responsibility to set a good example for them.
Gurbaj has been one of the key players of the team. How important is it that he returns to the team quickly?
He is a very good player. It takes a lot of hard work to become a player and reach that level. But it just takes two minutes to destroy it all. We need Gurbaj. Right now, the priority is to create positive atmosphere in the team. With just a year for the Games, that’s the most important thing.