2017’s top 10 — Indian men's hockey team: Superior position in the continent

Roelant Oltmans was replaced by compatriot Sjoerd Marijne as the coach, who made a winning start to his tenure by clinching the Asia Cup.

Members of the Indian men’s hockey team with their bronze medals after winning their third place play-off against Germany in the Hockey World League Finals at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in December 2017.   -  AFP

The Indian men’s hockey team had a topsy-turvy year, losing its coach and close games against lower-ranked teams but winning the Asia Cup in emphatic manner to reiterate its superior position in the continent.

The year began on a disappointing note, with a loss to Malaysia in the semifinal of the Azlan Shah Cup as it ended third in the competition. Malaysia became the team’s nemesis, winning again at the World League Semifinals in London before India got its measure at the Asia Cup twice.

It was a throwback to the inconsistent times of the past when India would play brilliantly in some games and melt down in others. A loss to Canada in London was an added embarrassment. The year also saw Dutchman Roelant Oltmans, the longest serving foreign presence in Indian hockey, finally getting the sack citing poor results as Hockey India sought quick returns and lost patience with his ideas of process and progress.

Oltmans had been with the team for four years, coming in as the High Performance Director but taking charge of the men’s team before the Rio Olympics. At the same time, he also handled the UP Warriors franchise in the Hockey India League. He was replaced by compatriot Sjoerd Marijne — filched from the women’s team — who made a winning start to his tenure by clinching the Asia Cup but got a reality check about the frustrating times, with the inconsistency of Indian hockey at the World League Finals.

The laurels

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup

Bronze

Sultan of Johor Cup (junior)

Bronze

Asia Cup

Gold

Hockey World League

Bronze

 

Sjoerd Marijne: I give a lot of freedom to players

Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne has been in a unique position, of an outsider inside the dressing rooms of both the men’s and women’s hockey teams in India. His appointment as the coach of the women’s team was welcomed cautiously, given the fact that he was relatively unknown in terms of his coaching pedigree with top teams. His move to the men’s side after the abrupt sacking of compatriot Roelant Oltmans raised a lot of eyebrows.

Since then, however, the 43-year-old — one of the youngest coaches to work at top-flight Indian hockey — has gradually established his presence with a different way of working and giving a lot more freedom to players.

How has the experience been since your arrival in India, personally and with the team?

Well, the people in India are so friendly and open, I really like that. They want to go forward, they are open to it and open to my ideas and so for me, to work here, it has been really nice.

How was the Asia Cup outing, as your first tour in charge, and the changes you have tried to bring to the team?

For the team, of course, it is very important in terms of self-confidence because wins always do that to a player. And when you win together, then working together becomes so much easier, it gives both the coach and the team a good feeling, a really positive feeling about taking the co-operation together. And if you take the first step something like that, it becomes even better. As for changes, I think it’s better to ask the players about it because it’s not about me. Of course, I give a lot of freedom to the players and like the leadership and the player-driven philosophy, and that’s it.

How will you compare your experiences with the men's and the women's teams given your unique experience of working with both in the past year?

With the women, it took me longer to bring in my system. The Holland tour was the moment for me when everything fell together. We played so good, I think that team will be in the top-four of the world! Everything what I worked for seven months finally came together on that tour. With the men the process is going a lot faster, there is a lot of leadership among the men. But I was really proud when I said goodbye to the women, they have taken really big steps.

What is the expectation now for 2018 with the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup lined up?

We, of course, have the target to win the Asian Games and the World Cup. I am really happy with the development we are making. The CWG will be a really good tournament and if we do well there, it will give a lot of confidence for the next event.