“We all know India is not the easiest of countries to work - especially in the sporting sector because of a host of issues. But in my mind, I was always prepared. When I took up the offer, I knew someday I will be sacked but I was ready for that.”
This was Roelant Oltmans’ reaction after he was let go from the position of the men’s team head coach in 2017. It ever was thus.
Taking up the mantle of the head coach of the Indian hockey men’s team is akin to walk a tightrope blind-folded, knowing patience is not a virtue that Hockey India is blessed with in abundance.
When Sjoerd Marijne was appointed the head coach for the men in blue to replace Oltmans, the consensus seemed to be: why not Harendra Singh? Why not give the responsibility to a man who knows the setup better than anyone? Instead, Hockey India asked Marijne to leave his job with the women’s team, and take over the men’s. And less than a year since that strange decision, we are back to square one.
Here’s a look at the musical chair that has been the men’s head coach position since 2009, starting when Hockey India was founded.
Jose Brasa (May 2009 to November 2010)
The Spaniard Jose Brasa took over at a tricky time, when the failure to qualify for Beijing Olympics was still fresh in the mind of every hockey fan in the country. But under Brasa’s guidance India had won a silver medal at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and a bronze at Guangzhou Asian Games. He had joined as India coach in May 2009 and was given an initial contract till 2010 Asian Games and was expected to oversee till the 2012 Olympics campaign. But failure to qualify directly for the Olympics meant Hockey India chose not to extend his contract.
Michael Nobbs (June 2011 to June 2013)
Australian Michael Nobbs was unceremoniously sacked as Indian hockey team’s chief coach due to non-performance, and he became, then, the fourth foreign coach to be shown the door before completion of the full tenure.
Nobbs, who took over the charge in 2011, was offered a five-year contract and a handsome salary, but his association with Indian hockey lasted merely two years
The highlight, if you could call it that, of Nobbs’s tenure was India’s qualification for 2012 London Olympics after having missed the Beijing edition of the Games. But the eight-time Olympic champions finished last at the London Games and from thereon it was always going to be a case of when and not if Nobbs would get the sack. The Australian came under further scrutiny after India failed to book a direct ticket for the World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, finishing sixth out of eight teams in FIH World League semifinal at Rotterdam.
Terry Walsh (October 2013 to October 2014)
Stifled by “bureaucratic confines”, there was confusion over what made Terry Walsh quit his post during a fairly successful regime. The Australian was the man who oversaw the team’s triumph at the Asian Games in Incheon, ending a 16-year wait and confirming an Olympic berth.
Hockey India was left confused, though admitting it was a disaster waiting to happen because, “there is too much of interference, too much of delay from the government side which has been bothering.” The Sports Authority of India washed off its hands, citing they barely interacted on a day-to-day basis.
“I am finding considerable difficulty adjusting to the decision making style of the sporting bureaucracy in India which I believe, in the long term, is not in the best interests of Indian Hockey or it’s players,” said Walsh under who India also won a silver in Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Paul van Ass (January 2015 to June 2015)
This episode was as bizarre as it could get. Less than half a year after his appointment, during the World Hockey League Semi-Finals in Belgium, the coach was reportedly left miffed about HI president Narinder Batra’s involvement in running the team’s affairs, in particular his attempt to take over a team meeting.
“After our win over Malaysia Dr. Batra came on the pitch and spoke to players in Hindi. I thought he was commending the players but instead it turned out he was criticising the players,” van Ass said from Netherlands, while informing the media that he was fired and he won’t be returning.
“Then I jumped and because pitch is my area and I need to protect my players. Also I felt we played quite well in that match and won it.”
A hurt Van Ass, however, said if asked he is still willing to resume his duties and return back to India.
“Don’t ask me anything, ask Hockey India. I didn’t step aside… I was asked to go,” he said.
Roelant Oltmans (August 2015 to Sep 2017)
From Pakistan to India and back to Pakistan - not many have had an international coaching career as exciting as Roelant Oltmans. The Dutchman who came to India in 2013 as High Performance Director was made head coach after van Ass’ unceremonious sacking, with less than a year to go for Rio Olympics.
Oltmans said the day he took up the role he emphasized on the need to set long-term goals for Indian hockey to revive its past glory.
“My plans from day one was to set long-term goals for India hockey to put the house in order and achieve a level a consistency. I had always said that India need 6 years to be in the top 3,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.
“But it seems it’s different in India. People want overnight results. But it takes to build a process after a slump. In India it’s all about winning a tournament, everyone thinks from the point of view of a fan. It takes time.”
Sjoerd Marijne (Sep 2017 to May 2018)
Should it have been Sjoerd Marijne in the first place? There was, and still is, a school of thought that Marijne should not have been given the job when Oltmans was asked to step aside. Here is a man, with no previous experience of coaching a men’s national side, asked to leave his job as the women’s national team coach and take over.
The results were not bad either. An undefeated campaign at the Asia Cup, a good run at the HWL Final in Bhubaneshwar, a successful test series against New Zealand meant Marijne was taking this squad on the right track before disappointments at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (with a heavily rotated squad) and the no-medal show at Gold Coast, meant the sword of Damocles (read: Hockey India) was hanging over the Dutchman’s head.
Initial reports suggested that the major fallout from CWG was going to be a change in captaincy (PR Sreejesh reclaimed it from Manpreet Singh), but, as it turned out, Marijne and Harendra Singh are now at positions where many thought they should have originally been last year anyway.
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