London: Be it any sport, as national coach of a country, you need to handle and answer tough questions. But the coach of India’s men’s hockey team, Roelant Oltmans, wants to play the boss.
On Sunday, after another upset defeat – this time against Canada in the Hockey World League Semi-finals, Oltmans lashed out at reporters when asked why the team is letting the country down even against relatively weaker teams.
Canada qualified for the World Cup and India finished sixth in the tournament they were expected to be in top three at least, with just two teams ranked higher than them – Argentina and the Netherlands. Incidentally, both played the final on Sunday.
The uneasy coach
Had India not been hosts of the HWL Finals this December and the World Cup next year, they would have been struggling to qualify. And it must be admitted that it led to some degree of complacency in India’s game that kept deteriorating as the tournament progressed.
This trend, which ceases to end, is hurting Indian hockey fans around the world and hampering the efforts to not just break into the world’s top three but also win back the fanbase the sport has lost back home.
Instead, Oltmans had this to say about the challenge, with angry wrinkles on his forehead: “People in India and you media should understand. Every time these guys are losing, you are writing negative. These boys are fantastic hockey players. They show in every match.
“They create more chances than any other team in the world. Maybe we should support that, don’t look always at the result. Look at the process, and be sure that it is coming. That’s what I am telling you,” he said, lashing out at the media and Indian fans.
“Probably you will never understand what I would try to say, and I don’t care about it,” Oltmans, who was earlier Hockey India’s High Performance Director, said. Oltmans took over as India coach in July 2015 after Paul van Ass was ousted following a tiff with then HI president, Narinder Batra.
The confused coach
After losing to Malaysia, Oltmans had sort of admitted to complacency lying somewhere in the Indian dug out, with a World Cup spot already sealed.
“Somewhere deep, far away, you know you have already qualified,” he had said. But, on Sunday, the 63-year-old backtracked from that statement, calling it “nonsense” and using the world “do or die” four times in 15 seconds.
“I totally don’t agree with that. It’s nonsense what you are saying, but there is a difference between playing a tournament that is do or die or not. And for us it is not do or die. Do or die will be in October (Asia Cup). Do or die will be in December (HWL Finals). I don’t know if it is good or not, but that’s what it is,” the uneasy coach said.
The confusion in Oltmans’s mind came to the fore when the next moment he questioned attitude of some of the players, without naming them.
“Canada had to win to qualify [for the World Cup]. We had already qualified. I think the attitude of the players was not at the required level,” the Dutchman said.
India may have risen to No. 6 under Oltmans, both as High Performance Director and coach, with the Asian Games gold and the Champions Trophy silver as the highlights.
But the problem at the core of Indian hockey hasn’t changed. They aren’t winning consistently, have no trophies to show, and continue to lose when it hurts the most, even against teams less skilful.
It raises a big question if Indian hockey has extracted as much as it could from the World Cup and Olympic gold medal-winning coach. However, it’s a tricky situation for HI with just a year and a half left for the World Cup – that too at home.