Think of an Indian coach leading his team, in any sport, to a World Cup medal. Then think of the same coach assisting someone else, playing second fiddle. Now think of the coach simultaneously handling a club side in another country, with several players overlapping the national and club sides.

Sound complicated and impossible? Michel van den Heuvel has been doing this since 2015, when he was appointed assistant coach to the Belgian national side. Heuvel, who won the World Cup bronze in charge of Netherlands in 2010, is also head coach at HC Bloemendaal, one of the most successful clubs in Dutch hockey history.

“The beauty is that I am working with two beautiful teams. I think Bloemendaal is one of the most beautiful teams in Holland and working with this Belgium side is really positive. For me, it (the designation) doesn’t matter. I like hockey and the job I do right now makes it possible for me to live in Holland with the family. Also very important is the respect I get from the coaching staff and the players, makes my role so satisfactory. Sports is all about helping players and the players are really awesome,” he says, speaking to Sportstar .

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He might make it sound easy but it isn’t. It helps that crossing borders is a breeze in Europe. Still, there are times when he admits he feels conflicted, insisting though that never on field during a game. “I can be professional enough to put emotions away when we play but it is also a positive part of bringing emotions into the team.

“The only difficulty is when you work with players you have a really strong bond that goes beyond professional relations. When we won the semifinal (at Rio Olympics) against Holland, that’s the tough part, after the game when you see some players and what it (the defeat) does to them. The process is difficult because it goes your heart and
that’s not nice,” he smiles.

It becomes more difficult when the Dutch side has players from Bloemendaal. But he is clear where his loyalties lie during an international competition. “Belgium,” he asserts.

Interestingly, not many know that Heuvel also worked as Pakistan coach for less than two years, being booted out just before the London Olympics for alleged ‘breach of contract’. His tenure with the Dutch side prior to that was also terminated midway with the team and the federation not agreeing to his methods. With such a record, his presence in the Belgian dressing room only adds to the intrigue. “But if I do not agree with what they want to do, I cannot continue,” he shrugs.

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Ask him if the ‘demotion’ bothers him and Heuvel laughs. “Maybe, when I was younger, 10-15 years ago. But now I am just enjoying the work and if we are able to win, then we all win all together. Yes, if I was just there putting cones on the pitch, I wouldn’t do it. It’s just the respect of the whole group and the programme that makes it a really nice role. Everybody has his inputs and, yeah, that’s it,” he signs off.