Saturday 23 September 2017 News Updated at 07:09 AM IST
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Another head rolls... Roelant Oltmans could not bring about the change that Hockey India desired, leading to his exit.
Four head coaches fired in the last five years isn’t a great statistic in any sporting sphere. All of them were brought in with the great hope that they would create a turnaround in the National team’s fortunes but were sent packing prematurely when their experiments yielded mixed results.

The names are easy to remember. Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh, Paul van Ass and Roelant Oltmans. Hockey India and the chief supporters of the game, Sports Authority of India, spent a fortune for their services but never got what they wanted. Despite stumbling so often, Hockey India has shown an uncanny knack of repeating the same mistakes.

When HI advertised for the post of the chief coach for the senior men’s team, one thought the ruling body would finally make a calculated and well thought out decision. But, to the amazement of everyone, newly appointed Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore tweeted on Friday announcing that the inexperienced Sjoerd Marijne had been picked as Oltmans’ successor. It clearly showed neither HI nor SAI have become wiser by experience.

It’s just been a week since Oltmans was told to leave and not even four days since HI called out for a replacement. And much before the September 15 deadline, SAI dished out a surprise in picking a candidate who has zero experience of working with a senior men’s team. What left everyone bemused was the appointment of Harendra Singh as the coach of the women’s team. Harendra, who won a historic Junior World Cup last December before Hi decided not to renew his contract, was tipped as the favourite but instead was handed the reins of the women’s team.

"Who is this guy Marijne?” was former goalkeeper Ashish Ballal’s instant reaction on the latest signing. "What are his credentials? I know he hasn’t coached any senior national team but has he even coached a top-level club side. HI and SAI continue to mystify all of us. Even a layman can tell you he isn’t qualified for such a demanding job. Coaching a senior national side is no joke. But, sadly, hockey is being turned into a joke nowadays by some administrators.”

Reports have indicated that Marijne was reluctant to take up such an onerous task but it was HI and SAI who ended up convincing him even without waiting for the applicants to express their interests. This when Harendra too had thrown his hat into the ring. Harendra, who had coached the senior team previously, is probably one of the better Indian coaches available. Moreover with the Indian team under transition and many juniors graduating, he seemed the ideal man.

He had transformed a group of believers into achievers and is respected by many in the fraternity for his undying passion. With good knowledge of the game and the ability to convey it to the boys in the language they understand directly - most foreign coaches use the help of Indian assistants to convey their thoughts, ideas and match plans - Harendra appeared apt. Not just Harendra, former coach M K Kaushik also boasts of good credentials. But, HI and SAI chose to ignore home-bred coaches, believing off-shore talent is better suited despite repeated failures.

Ballal blamed it on colonial hangover. "It may sound rude but I think we don’t respect our own talent despite them being on par with Westerners. More often than not we are enamoured by their presentations. They come with all their glitzy presentations and make bold proclamations. We sort of don’t tend to do that. I think people who make the decisions get sucked in by the ideas foreigners tend to present. Harendra won the Junior World Cup but the decision-makers don’t want to consider it. Kaushik also carries so much reputation but does anybody care for that. Technology is overpowering strategies.”

The 1980 Moscow Olympics gold-medal winning captain V Baskaran, who has coached the national team, feels administrators can’t handle the success of Indian talent. "Hiring and firing has become the order of the day because administrators don’t like a coach to be very successful. Simply because they feel the individual can become too big and take away all the credit. The best way to deal with it is nip it in the bud. Otherwise why would so many coaches come and go in the last decade. There are guys who have not been retained despite achieving success. Even I’ve faced the brunt. Sadly, things just don’t change.”

Foreign coaches, to be fair to them, cannot be blamed solely for the situation Indian hockey finds itself in now. Jose Brasa, Walsh, Oltmans and even the great Ric Charlesworth - who came in as a technical adviser - have tried to do good but have found the system hard to tackle. "When you go Netherlands, Germany or Australia, teams from the under-12 level to the senior side play a similar style of hockey,” opined Baskaran. "So when the juniors graduate to the senior side, they’ve already spent years learning and practising the system. All age groups are in sync with each other which is not the case here. There’s no planning at all. It’s been said over a thousand times but unless we have a proper structure, progress will not happen.”

Ballal felt foreign coaches are best suited for their conditions and it’s time administrators remove their blinders and pin their hopes on an Indian. "Oltmans, Walsh and Van Ass are all successful coaches. No doubt about it,” he said.

"The key factor is they’ve been successful in their own backyard. They know the system very well and it’s not difficult for them to implement it. Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Belgium etc, all have their own style of playing hockey. Pakistan faltered repeatedly with their experiments of foreign coaches and have named their own man. It’s time we stopped using Indians as translators. While we pay a fortune for a foreign coach, why not pay one-tenth of it to an Indian. What’s stopping HI and SAI from doing so? Indian hockey has forgotten the style it wants to play owing to constant chopping and changes. It’s time to stop this nonsense and install stability.”

Chaos, however, is Indian hockey’s best friend and one wonders when the axe would fall on Marijne’s head for another guy to face a similar fate.