New Delhi: Rio Olympics was the reason Roelant Oltmans’s role as High-Performance Director (HPD) was changed to Chief Coach. The team played well but an eighth-place finish at the Games was more due to change in format. India finished fourth in their group to get the last quarterfinal spot and then lost. A semifinal appearance was the bare minimum the nation expected, but the team couldn’t make it that far. A call on Oltmans should have been taken then.
A year on from Rio, Hockey India’s (HI) High Performance and Development Committee on Saturday escorted Oltmans to the exit door – thanking him for what he has done, while reminding that the team’s performance in 2017 doesn’t merit him continuing in the job.
A four-year tenure – two as HPD and two as chief coach – ended, making the Dutchman sixth foreigner leaving the Indian shores after Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh, Paul Van Ass and Ric Charlesworth (technical director) in seven years.
A silver medal at the 2016 Champions Trophy remained the highlight of Oltmans’s tenure as coach, besides helping India bridge gap at the top, climbing back to No. 5 on the FIH rankings – for which he must be given credit. But the day he tried to hijack coach Harendra Singh’s Junior Hockey World Cup campaign in the dugout at Lucknow, Oltmans had a taken-for-granted air about him. Any coach will have his days numbered with that attitude.
PAST HIS SELL-BY DATE
If a player has a time frame when he’s at his best and contributes to the team, so does a coach.
Oltmans enjoyed the longest tenure by any foreigner working with Indian hockey. As HPD, he saw three coaches – Nobbs, Walsh and Van Ass – coming and leaving. The Dutchman also played the dual role at times, as stop-gap arrangement until a new coach assumed office.
In 2015, he was handed the coaching-only duties, being considered the best man to stabilize India’s Rio Olympics preparations after Van Ass’s sacking.
To his credit, Oltmans did well to get the players together and even won the Asian Champions Trophy gold. But as HI rightly pointed out, performance in Asia can’t be the benchmark for improvement. A No. 8 finish at the Olympics, supported by the format, is still not good enough.
This year’s show put the final few nails in the coffin, beginning with defeats to Malaysia at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and then again at the Hockey World League (HWL) Semifinals in London. A crash-landing against Canada followed, and Oltmans had nothing to reply besides lame defensive statements and a mini outburst against the media.
An afterthought now, but had Oltmans been reinstated as HPD in 2015 and a new coach given the reins until the 2018 World Cup, the Dutchman may still have had a job, but then you can never predict things with HI.
RELUCTANCE TO PROMOTE JUNIORS
A team source confirmed Zee Media that Oltmans was against taking as many as nine members of last year’s junior world cup squad, which included six debutants, on the last tour of Europe.
The source said that Oltmans went as far as saying “it is not my team.” But the Dutchman was left red-faced by the show put up by Manpreet Singh’s boys, who defeated full-strength Netherlands in two consecutive matches.
The comment, it is learnt, went against Oltmans, who has always defended wearing legs even after losing matches the team should have won.
THE PROBLEM AHEAD
David John, the current HPD, will now do what Oltmans used to do – play a dual role of HPD-coach after HI handed him interim duties. But there’s a striking dissimilarity here. Oltmans had a proven track record as chief coach, whereas John is a fitness expert, who first worked with HI in that capacity under Nobbs.
It makes little sense then to ask John to perform a chief coach’s job.
But the worries don’t end here.
A coach’s removal close to tournaments as big as the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Cup lined up in 2018 leaves little time to act and resurrect.
Think from a player’s point of view. A new coach may bring with him a different plan and ask the team to play according to that, which may mean pressing the undo button on all the previous coach put in place over the last two years.
How justified will it be to demand results from individuals, team and the new coach with a reworked strategy?
The scenario should only prompt HI to act swiftly and appoint a new coach, or else India will be left to settle for another average 7-8th place at the World Cup.
NOTE: The story was first published by Zee Media's Jaspree Sahni on india.com.