A look back at Oltmans' tenure at the helm

The end of Roelant Oltmans' tenure as chief coach of the Indian men's hockey team on Saturday is being seen as yet another example of administrative high-handedness but hasn't surprised many in hockey circles.

The Dutchman's topsy-turvy campaign as head-coach of the Indian men's hockey team ended with him being sacked from his job.   -  Getty Images

The end of Roelant Oltmans' tenure as chief coach of the Indian men's hockey team on Saturday is being seen as yet another example of administrative high-handedness but hasn't surprised many in hockey circles. Under pressure since the team finished a disappointing sixth at the Hockey World League Round 3 in London recently, India's performances at and since Rio Olympics had already raised questions on Oltmans' utility.

The 63-year old first came into the picture when he applied for the job in 2011. He did not get it but after a year with the Uttar Pradesh Warriors in the Hockey India League, became the High Performance Director (HPD) in 2013, entrusted with creating a uniform system across genders and age groups.

He saw the exit of three coaches, spent a lot of time with the national teams and brought a stability and structure to the side before becoming coach in 2015. As the longest-serving foreign team staffer in the sport, however, his report card would rate strictly 'average'.

'Not much development'

Former India goalkeeper Ashish Ballal is blunt. “I am not surprised by the decision given the poor results in recent past. Also, his contribution on field wasn't exactly spectacular, even though the team did improve a lot in fitness under him. As the HPD also, there is little to see in terms of his contribution at the grassroots or to overhauling the Indian system per se,” Ballal told Sportstar, commenting that, in keeping with tradition, he wasn't surprised with Oltmans blaming the system as a parting shot.

But questions around the decision have more to do with timing. While most teams prepare for an Olympic cycle, Hockey India, it can be argued, has wasted a year with Oltmans' sacking. Given that India's 8th place at Rio, up from 12th at London, was more to do with the format of the competition, the federation ought to have looked at Oltmans' continuation soon after. That would also have given the administration a much wider pool to choose from. However, once it was decided to give him charge, the least that was expected was to persist till the 2018 World Cup at home.

In fact, several of Hockey India's decisions since the Rio Olympics have baffled many, the appointment of an erstwhile scientific advisor as the HPD, in charge of the entire structure of hockey in the country, being one of them. That was followed by calling off the HIL in 2018 and withdrawing from the Pro League starting 2019 and lack of clarity about the development side.

'Becoming more result-oriented'

Former player RP Singh, member of the High Performance Committee that decided on the dismissal, explained, “Full credit to what Oltmans has done with the team in the five years he has been here. But we now have to look beyond experiments and get results. The team is stuck at 6-7 level in the world. The inconsistency and absence of results in the last two years has been disappointing. We cannot keep losing to teams like Malaysia and Canada when we are targeting Holland and Germany.” The absence of some key senior players did not make a difference to the general opinion.

While he did a decent job every time he was given interim charge of the national side, his actual responsibility as HPD – to develop a streamlined and modern system bottom-up, bring uniformity across the country and ensure a feeder line to the national sides – left a lot to be desired.

The appointment of zonal HPDs was a welcome step but, like so many other plans, ended up going nowhere. His interference in the junior side ahead of the Junior World Cup wasn't reportedly appreciated either.

But there is unanimity that giving David John the charge, albeit temporarily, would be regressive. John, primarily a fitness expert, is credited with kickstarting the fitness regime in the Indian team but is not a coach.

There are rumours of moving women's coach Sjoerd Marijne, who supposedly enjoys a good working relationship with John, but the Dutchwoman has no prior experience of working with men. Also, the women's performance recently left a lot to be desired in terms of planning on field.

'New coach hopefully before December'

John himself is keen on having a full-time coach before the Hockey World League Finals in December. “The search will possibly start next week and we are keeping all options open. Indian or foreign, we want the best coach rather than the first one available. It takes time, with the women's coach it took three months to complete the process,” he clarified.

There are also murmurs of giving Harendra a chance. “We have had almost a decade of foreign coaches. It's time to at least try out an Indian now, with a foreign expert as maybe a consultant,” Ballal felt. Harendra himself is categorical. “I don't think I fit into their scheme of things. At the same time, I can promise a podium finish at World Cup and Olympics if given a free hand. Will that happen? I don't think so,” he quipped.

Jagbir Singh, one of the best Indian names with an understanding of modern hockey, felt results matter. “Whether player or coach, every match result matters. It is important to analyse performance at every stage and take remedial measures in time. Imagine if a team loses against lower-ranked side with its best players, what signal does it send to the rest of the world? Conversely, a win against a better side with youngsters would be a major boost for their confidence. I believe if a major decision was to be taken, this was the right time; after the Asia Cup would have been too late,” he said.

For him, the target was clear. “I would look at HWL finals at home and target the World Cup at home. High time we realise and focus on being among the top-three – dream, dare and deliver.”