Experts weigh in on Oltmans' sacking

"We need someone who has the hunger to prove himself. Names don't matter,” seems to be the common refrain among the hockey players.

"His (Oltmans') contribution on field wasn't exactly spectacular, even though the team did improve a lot in fitness under him," Ashish Ballal, former India goalkeeper, said after the Dutchman was sacked.   -  Getty Images

The end of Roelant Oltmans' tenure as head-coach of the Indian men's hockey team on Saturday has not 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.

“There is a core group of around 20 players we have had since 2012. About 12-13 juniors have been brought into the scheme of things but it is not fair to expect them to perform from the word go.

"But the other 20-odd players have been stagnating, there is little or no growth in their performance in the last 15 months, which is not acceptable,” Hockey India's High Performance Director David John told Sportstar.

“For us, the upcoming 15 months are crucial. We want to finish on the podium at the World Cup and the HWL Finals and win the Asia Cup, the Asian Games and hopefully the CWG. I am confident we have the players to achieve that but the committee felt the team needs a new direction,” he added.

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Former India goalkeeper Ashish Ballal was equally critical. “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,” Ballal said, commenting that in keeping with tradition, he wouldn't be surprised if Oltmans blamed the system as parting shot.

He wasn't too off the mark. “We all (foreigners) know India is not the easiest of countries to work. But in my mind, I was always prepared. When I took up the offer, I knew someday I will be sacked but I was ready for that,” Oltmans said after his dismissal.

“I have no regrets because I know I have left a certain legacy for Indian hockey. The team has made significant progress and I just hope the process which I had set continues in the future.

"My plans was to set long-term goals to put the house in order and achieve a level, a consistency...But it seems it’s different in India. People want overnight results. It’s all about winning a tournament,” Oltmans added.

Former player and member of the committee RP Singh, 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.”

As far as his replacement is concerned, former India junior coach Harendra Singh can think of only two – Dutchman Marc Lammers and legendary Ric Charlesworth – but both are unlikely. Players, though, while unwilling to come on record, feel the team doesn't need reputations.

“Worldwide, most teams today have young coaches. A lot of them aren't very well-known. Argentina's Carlos Retegui or Germany's Valentine Altenburg weren't big names when they took charge. We need someone who has the hunger to prove himself. Names don't matter,” is the common refrain.

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Jagbir Singh, one of the best names with an understanding of modern hockey, believes 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. So 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.”