It might be somewhat prophetic of the shock yet to sink in that Roelant Oltmans’ Twitter bio still reads “Chief Coach Indian Men Hockey Team” at the time of writing. And it is quite justified that this announcement will take some time to sink in. The reason given by Hockey India to Oltmans was that the Federation was in search of a more “result-oriented” coach- in other words, someone who would continuously win matches and tournaments. The fact, however, remains that Oltmans is the 23rd coach to be fired by Hockey India in as many years. And perhaps this one statistic speaks more about the sporting federation than any observations on the team’s performance.
Just in! Hockey India takes decisive steps to fulfil long-term vision; Chief Coach Roelant Oltmans to step down.https://t.co/134e7s96yu
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) September 2, 2017
Hockey India seems to have created a reputation for itself when it comes to firing international coaches. The trend that started with Ric Charlesworth, Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh, Jose Basra and Paul van Ass seems to spill on to the present day and it makes the administrative body look quite impatient when it comes to appointing coaches for the men’s team. In fact, Nobbs, Walsh and Van Ass were all shown the door during Oltmans’ tenure as the high-performance director.
When the Dutchman was appointed in 2015 after his countryman’s exit in August, it was expected that he, at least, would not go the way that his foreign predecessors had gone before him. A four-year contract was then signed. Evidently, Hockey India no longer felt the need to employ Oltmans’ “continuous process of change” with the national team anymore after September 2 this year.
In an official statement, the Chairman of the Hockey India Selection Committee, Sri Harbinder Singh, said, ” We need to show results beyond intent in key international tournaments where the sporadic success over the last two years is more incidental than deliberate.”
“To make results a reality, we need to make hard decisions for the greater good of the future of Hockey in India. The current format of coaching was not showing results beyond a certain level,” he added.
For one thing, this is an inherently flawed argument. Given the fact that the current Indian squad has had to deal with 5 coaches in the past 8 years, it is quite clear that the players suffered additionally after being forced to constantly adjust to the changing tactics of each coach. An improvement or a reworking does not happen overnight. But this trend of continuously firing the people at the helm of the team clearly shows that instantaneous results are what Hockey India wants.
It is worth noting here that, in 2015, Oltmans was directly involved in the Indian team winning a medal at a major international tournament for the first time in over 30 years when they won bronze at the World League that year. Fast forward to 2016 and one would remember exactly how the team was praised for their performance against a dominant Australian side at the Champion’s Trophy. The game seemed very well matched- a contest among equals which eventually went down to penalties and resulted in Australia narrowly defeating the men in blue.
The performance was hailed as one of the finest by the men’s team in recent times with many terming it as Oltmans’ pinnacle of success- citing that these results would eventually contribute to a long association between Indian Hockey and the Dutchman. A sum of Rs 2 lakhs was announced as the cash reward for the players and Oltmans each. A spectacular amount of fanfare followed.
Later on, India claimed a decisive victory against Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy. The 3-2 scoreline was especially lauded back home for the sole reason that the victory came against arch-rivals Pakistan.
Cut back to the present when Hockey India suddenly claims that “Wins in Asia cannot be a benchmark anymore.”
Oltmans, however, has gone on record to say that he was not taken by surprise at Hockey India’s decision at all. In fact, the now erstwhile coach of the Indian team tweeted out a tongue-in cheek response announcing how he had been informed of his termination by the administration. The sad part about this entire saga is that this is not the first time an international coach has been unceremoniously dismissed despite showing results. Probably, the person who would be Oltmans companion in this experience is Terry Walsh.
Walsh, it must be remembered, guided the men in blue to finish with a gold at the 2014 Asian Games. Interestingly enough, this is what led to the men’s team directly qualifying for the Rio Olympics. Results were definitely shown and statistics to back Walsh’s positive influence on the team do exist. Back then, the often repeated glib of “he is not a good coach” was Hockey India’s go to excuse to justify sacking Walsh- just like it is now.
As per interim coach David John’s statements following Oltmans’ sacking, the decision came after astute observations that Oltmans never seemed to have a backup strategy in place for teams with a more defensive style of playing; teams that often relied on quick counter-attacks. The player tactics seemed to be getting quite monotonous and the development was not wholesome. But doesn’t this fault implicate the players as much as the coach? in this context then, is it not right to see this sacking as conveniently making a scapegoat out of Roelant Oltmans?
Just like players have a shelf-life, so should a coach. It was no secret that Oltmans’ attitude signalled huge problems and clashes with the Hockey governing body. Probably that laid back attitude was what made him take his coaching stint for granted. That and a frequent lording over Junior Coach Harinder Singh’s efforts with the Colts during the Junior Hockey World Cup definitely contributed to Oltmans slowly slipping from the good books of the administrative officials.
But what impact is this going to have on the team?
By now, the team has probably gotten used to the constant process of learning and unlearning that has followed the departure of every coach. One major change that seems to be inevitable, however, is Sardara Singh’s role in the team. The former captain, who will be leading India in the upcoming Asia Cup has been at his best playing in the centre half. Although he might be safe for now, current captain Manpreet Singh may soon relieve him of his responsibilities in that position. The thing that works in Singh’s favour, however, is the experience and mentorship he promises to bring to the table.
Interim coach David John has made it clear that is open to giving a place to standout players from the junior squad within the team to give them the correct amount of exposure necessary to groom them sufficiently, keeping the next Olympics in mind. This approach might see a couple of current strikers having to make way for the young guns in the team.
Hockey India certainly seems very whimsical when it comes to appointing coaches for one of the most popular sports in the country. However, this story is far from over. Further developments here would undoubtedly be interesting.