New Delhi: Sjoerd Marijne put his head down when questions were raised over his appointment by Hockey India last September. But he was least interested in the clamour. The drawing board was all he wanted, for he isn't one who likes wasting time. Marijne quickly realised he was entrusted with the hottest job in world hockey – coaching the Indian men's team. Six months into the role, the coming Commonwealth Games (CWG) could be his real arrival and launch the team for bigger things in the year of Asian Games and the World Cup.
After Roelant Oltmans was ousted and Marijne replaced his fellow Dutchman, India reclaimed the 2017 Asia Cup and defended their Hockey World League Finals bronze to end the year. But what came to the fore was a paradigm shift in how things were looked at.
Youngsters became the focus, while passengers and ageing legs were asked to deboard. Most importantly, the changed outlook has brought more cheer than disappointment to Indian hockey, so far.
Marijne doesn't believe in gut feelings, or as he admits, he isn't good at it. But talking to Zee Media, the Dutchman said he is seeing all the right signs for a successful CWG in Gold Coast, Australia.
Selection is tough. It surprises and disappoints players and fans alike. Does the selected lot take time to get to terms with it?
From the last five months that I have been the coach, we have been working on a few things. We have created a really high internal competition. It's very difficult to get into the team. Selection is always hard and difficult; it does disappoint players. But these players we have selected, they did the best over the last five months. Almost every player (in the core group) had the opportunity to play at least two tournaments and show his performance before the Commonwealth Games.
Two youngsters, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Dilpreet Singh, are there in the squad after just one tour with the senior team. Is that a risk for CWG or investment for the future?
It's never a risk, always investment. You do it so that you earn profits in the long term. But I am not counting on long term. I already want the profit. That’s why we have selected these players. I am absolutely sure the team will benefit from it. It's important to know that we didn't select them so that we are good by 2020. We want to be good in 2018, in every tournament.
Sardar Singh’s game has not been in the pink of late. Did that make it easy to drop him?
It's for every player, not only Sardar, (also) Ramandeep (Singh) and Surender (Kumar). It's difficult to drop such players, same with (Birendra) Lakra. But for me, it’s not important what they did in the past, it's what they show in the present. That's the only thing I can be busy with. I can't wait for the players to deliver. I only see what they deliver at the moment. And for this tournament (CWG), it was not good enough.
Two defeats in the final against Australia in last two editions of the CWG. Can India turn the tables this time?
A lot of people are already talking about Australia. I don't know if we really play Australia. Of course, it will be perfect if we play the final against Australia but maybe both of us don't make the final. So we are not so busy with Australia. We did really well (against Australia) in the World League Finals (1-1 draw). The team is feeling we are getting closer and closer. Even at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, we lost (5th position) largely because of the cards.
In Chris Ciriello as analytical coach, you now have someone who knows the Aussies inside out. What’s been his impact on the team so far?
He has a lot of confidence in himself, and that's what he brings with him. He was one of the leaders in the Australian hockey team in the 2014 World Cup. They showed a lot of resilience. I like that very much from Australia. That's something Ciriello brings to the leaders, because it starts with the leaders. If they lead by example, the rest of the team will follow. I do those (leadership) sessions together with Chris, using his experience in a good way.
What’s your gut feeling about the CWG campaign?
I can tell you I am not so good in that. A lot of coaches can judge by the warm-up if the team is good or not. I can never see it. Sometimes the warm-up is terrible and we play the perfect match. Also my belief in the team is extremely high. If you see the qualities we have, we just have to show it at the right moment. That will be an interesting challenge. I think we can turn out to be unstoppable. In the last week when we were training focusing on this tournament, I saw - together with my staff – that the team is ready for it. They are concentrating on the right moment, having fun at the right moment. For me that's always a sign. That's why I am so excited to go.
CWG 2018 Men's Hockey Pools
Pool A: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Scotland
Pool B: India, England, Malaysia, Pakistan, Wales
India begin their campaign against Pakistan on April 7.