“It’s a madhouse.” That’s how Gerhard Rach described the Indian hockey establishment when he parted company in 2005. The German was India’s first tryst with a foreign coach in a sport where eight Olympic gold medals were supposed to mean the country needed no outside help. Rach came to India just days before the 2004 Athens Olympics and lasted all of five months. But the trend that started with him continues to this day — of foreign coaches coming with high hopes of making a tangible difference, but walking away disillusioned, with their spirit crushed.
Dutchman Roelant Oltmans, who was formally shown the door on Saturday — becoming the seventh foreigner to be found wanting — had seemingly cracked the code, staying in India for four-and-a-half years, as either chief men’s coach, or high performance director, or both. But he too suffered the same fate as his predecessors.
Between Rach and Oltmans came Ric Charlesworth, Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh and Paul van Ass. All of them came with great fanfare and were touted as having the perfect credentials for the job. But it all went pear-shaped for every member of the Magnificent Seven.
Charlesworth did wonders with the Australian men’s and women’s teams. Brasa was a senior International Hockey Federation master coach. Nobbs was an Australian Olympian. Walsh tasted a lot of success with Australia and the Netherlands. Van Ass took the Dutch team to an Olympic silver medal while Oltmans took his home country’s men’s and women’s teams to the next level.
In short, the quality of the foreign coaches/technical/directors/advisors is not to blame. Moreover, all of them were left frustrated either by the federation, Sports Authority of India or the quality of players at their disposal.
What makes Oltmans’ ouster, the latest departure, curious is that some of his own wards were party to the execution. Sardar Singh, P.R. Sreejesh and Manpreet Singh, who have played under the Dutchman over the last few years, were in the 24-member “power-packed” meeting that took the decision. Some of the others present, which included Oltmans himself, have been part of his coaching and support staff, or have worked with him as selectors or government observers.
So, if “the performance of the team has not been consistent or up to the desired levels”, as the Hockey India press release spells it out, several of those present in that room, must own up at least some portion of responsibility.
What about players
Sardar, the recent Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, has been a fading force for the past few years while Sreejesh has been out injured. Manpreet is the current captain of the team but his international career is just six years old. One wonders what insight he would have brought to the table.
The core group of players that underachieved for most of the foreign coaches in the recent past has remained more or less similar, but Hockey India believes getting rid of the foreigner will somehow improve performance. And wasn’t it just over a year ago that Oltmans was being credited with guiding India to podium finishes at two successive FIH events – bronze in the World League and silver in the Champions Trophy?
India has repeatedly faltered against lower-ranked opposition such as Malaysia and Canada in major tournaments in recent times, and some blame has to be attached to those taking to the turf.
Oltmans has been in India for a fairly long time, and the team’s performance in his last assignment – the European tour – was decent. So the decision to sack him wouldn’t have been easy. But there is no clarity over who will replace him, and when. What we do know is that high performance director David John, who started in India as an exercise physiologist and scientific advisor to Nobbs, will be the interim coach. This does not portray a promising picture of Hockey India’s vision.
“Additionally, the Director High Performance and Hockey India Selection Committee will be required to perform a detailed assessment of all the senior core probables, with those that have reached their peak performance to make way for younger talent,” the release adds, a routine task for selectors which could have been done with the same coach at the helm.
The list of coaches who have come to work in India over the last decade reads like a who’s who. That they all departed with unfinished business, and more than a few complaints, shows that the problem with Indian hockey may be organic in nature. Getting a big-name foreign coach and sacking him after a few poor results would prompt others to think twice about coming to India and would be akin to papering over the cracks.