Maximiliano Caldas had everything. In the mid-90s, he was the linchpin of the Argentine team that won the Pan-American Games gold in 1995. A year later, as a 23-year-old, the defender was instrumental in Argentina’s 1-0 win over India at the Atlanta Olympics – the high point of his team’s otherwise mediocre campaign. Around the same time, he also found love. He dated Australian hockey player Alyson Annan, a legend of the women’s game and a year after the Atlanta Games, the young couple got married.
Then, just like that, Caldas had nothing.
His form dipped. He was axed from Argentina’s squad for the Sydney Olympics. His wife, on the other hand, was named the captain of the Australian team at their home Games. She added to her legend by leading the Hockeyroos to a gold-medal finish. During the Games, Annan got attracted to Dutch woman player Carole Thate. So on the night her team celebrated the Olympic gold, Annan decided to split with Caldas. Her relationship with Thate blossomed into love. And in late 2005, the rival-turned-lovers tied the knot.
The incident would’ve broken anyone. But Caldas denies it affected him. “I was married to a hockey player, a woman who happened to be a hockey player… With what happened, you understand yourself better so yeah, it’s a part of my life I don’t want to forget or don’t want it buried. It is what it is. I made the choice to be there,” he says. “I don’t have any regrets. You learn from things and you move along.”
Both, in fact, have moved on. Caldas, now 44, got re-married and has a family. Annan and Thate, too, have two sons from sperm donated by a friend. But as fate would have it, they were reunited on the hockey field again. Caldas was made Holland men’s team chief coach in 2014. And a year later, his ex-wife was appointed the coach of the Dutch women’s team, taking over from current India coach Sjoerd Marijne. Together, two of the best players of the 90s, who got married and separated, are tasked with reviving the flagging fortunes of the two Dutch teams.
For Caldas the process continues on Saturday, when his side opens its campaign against Spain in the Hockey World League Final here. Caldas is one of the world’s best coaches at the moment — India, too, reportedly tried to get him as Roelant Oltmans’ successor. He worked wonders with the Holland women’s team. Caldas’s side dominated world hockey, winning an Olympic gold in 2012 and the 2014 World Cup title.
With the men’s team severely under-performing during the same duration, he was given their charge while Marijne was named his successor with the women’s team. Caldas, however, had inherited a broken dressing room. He had a gifted bunch of players but it wasn’t a ‘team.’ In an interview to a Dutch website, he said he felt like ‘Winston Churchill addressing his troops’ in his first interaction with the players.
The solution, according to him, was simple – talk things out. “If things need to be said, good or bad, for the right reasons, it needs to be said,” Caldas says.
Caldas’s playful manner won the dressing room. The barrier was broken and the players – who according to Caldas ‘laughed at each other than with each other’ – gradually bonded. The results, too, are slowly showing. Holland have won the last two European Championships, in 2015 and 2017, along with the Hockey World League semifinals earlier this year.
But the fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics still rankles Caldas.
“We (Holland) have the most of everything – the most pitches, the most clubs and most players in the world in the men’s side anyway. And we underperform. Our last World Cup win is 1998, Olympics was in 2000… As a coach you always think, shit everything can get better,” he says.
Caldas isn’t content with what he has. But acknowledges that his broken marriage made him the person he is now.
“I think every experience in your life makes you… takes you to where you are now. That’s a part of what makes you who you are now,” he says. “I am married to a beautiful woman. I’ve got four kids and a dog. I have a really lovely life in Holland.” Caldas had nothing. Now he has everything.