Oltmans: The team is still very unpredictable

Indian men's hockey chief coach Roelant Oltmans is the longest serving foreigner in the game, having been with the team for almost three years now as the High Performance Director, a role he continues to play. In turns frustrated and mystified by the team's performances, the Dutchman swears by the talent but wishes for consistency.

Roelant Oltmans believes India can realistically achieve a top six finish at the Rio Olympics.   -  K MURALI KUMAR

Indian men's hockey chief coach Roelant Oltmans is the longest serving foreigner in the game, having been with the team for almost three years now as the High Performance Director, a role he continues to play. In turns frustrated and mystified by the team's performances, the Dutchman swears by the talent but wishes for consistency.

The league stages are over and the business end begins now. How do you see the Indian team so far in this event?

See, it took about three years to reach from 13 to 6 in the world, and I believe this is where we should be at the moment. It will take another couple of years to go further up into the top three – to beat these teams here, something more is required and that will happen in future. For the moment, we are learning some very good lessons from these teams.

I really do not care about who the opposition is for us in the quarter-finals. I think Great Britain played really well and scored every time they got a chance. Their structure is very good and they are doing the right things at the right moment.

India were not as bad as the score-line made them look against the Netherlands. What went wrong?

Well, you can never say what exactly went wrong, any one thing. We are still not able to bring the energy level which is required to stick to our plans. Our playing style costs energy, no doubt, but you have to bring it, if you don't then the opponents get the space they want.

One of the major areas that bother me is that it is too individualistic – the players run too much with the ball instead of passing. I have been trying to tell them that they can never run as hard as the ball does, so it is important to understand when and where to use your individual skills. Like I always say, show the magic in the opposition 25 yards, not your own.

Is it a concern given that this has been a problem for years now? How do you plan to change it?

The biggest problem is that they are developed like that. The moment they come into tense situations -- and top level matches are tense situations – then people go back to their old habits, instead of trying to execute what they we plan. The players understand the plan, they want to stick to it, but don't always do. The moment they get overexcited, for whatever reason, they completely forget it. Sometimes we do see when they manage to do it and then they play fantastic, but are still not consistent enough.

Roger (van Gent) has been here for about three weeks now and he says we are more de-learning than learning and that is more difficult. There will be new plans after this tournament on the road to Rio.

What do you do after such games? How do you handle the frustration of it all?

We speak to the players about it but, more importantly, we also ask them to study the result. We want them to show what their awareness of the match was, which is important also for us to learn why it is happening. There may be some interesting question on why people do not understand. I always keep a mirror in front of myself as well. At the moment, we go up and down. We have to try and at least stay at a level, then try to go further up.

There are some players who are easier to explain to, yes, but for me it is always about the team. Having said that, we do have a group of players who are more special in leadership roles, who understand what we are trying to do better and help spread it to the rest of the team.

Do you think the absence of an experienced poacher in the forward line is hurting the team?

For now, I agree we need a little more. I think we do have one at least - Akashdeep is one of those players. That's not much of a concern. Amir (Khan) has been reasonable so far. We have a very young forward line, only senior is Sunil. Some of them came straight from the Junior World Cup, where we finished 10th, so they have already taken huge steps to be here. The next step is not easy so the future is fine.

That said, everyone gets a chance at the Hockey India League (HIL) to show themselves and then we will have five months to go, so we will have an eye on everyone. A core group is generally a maximum of 33 players and we have only 26 so there is space for few more.

A bigger concern is getting penalty corners. But if you ask all my colleagues here, everyone would have same the same answer except perhaps Argentina. It is not easy as the defenders are getting better and better.

Sreejesh has been playing non-stop for a while now. Do you fear his burning out before Rio?

No way. I am never afraid of burning players out because we know our programmes. He's still so eager to learn, you see him during coaching around in the team. I don't think he has made any mistakes so far, to be honest. There may have been some problems with the defence in conceding goals definitely not goalkeeping errors.

As for Harjot, I have seen him quite a lot and what I see is satisfactory. He played in New Zealand and during the Australia series so we know what he is about. He is getting better and closer to Sree but there is time. Also, we have to think of Olympics and don't forget we will have only one goalkeeper there so Sree will have to play more matches in a row; this will be test of that also for him.

What is the status of the zonal High Performance Committees and the online coaching platform that you started? How much have those progressed?

That kind of stuff takes time. You need to start at an earlier age and recognise talent. A number of teams are developing new structures. GB and Netherlands are not here with their full squads but you see that the younger players who have been part of the system know exactly which lines to run etc.

What we really need to start now is a High Performance Academy for under-18. The kids there have to come from these zonal pockets in different areas. I have already spoken to the federation and there is a detailed plan for it. It should happen sometime at the start of 2016, so you will hear something very soon.

About the online platform, there is more and response from users who are accessing it. That's where people start and it is important. The Hindi version is also almost ready to reach people who are not able to use the English version.

Is there a pressure to always produce results? Is that a reason for little experimentation with the squad in competitions?

Every country has its own structure for getting competitions. Europe, for instance, has leagues throughout the year, so they play competitive matches on a regular basis. Our players, except HIL, don't really have competitions against top sides, which is necessary to become better. We always have an eye on new players and have events like the Azlan Shah Cup to bring them in. In the end, everyone has to fight for their berth.

But the pressure of results is not there. I made it clear from day one what my ideas were and I won't change. I don't feel any pressure, I know where we are coming from and where we have to go and how difficult it is. If we are in the top-six at the Olympics it would be a wonderful tournament and then, in the next 2-4 years, we take more steps towards getting medals again. We always have to be realistic.

What is the big target going forward from here?

Let's first think of Olympics, and then there is the Junior World Cup so I would be around till then. After that, I am not sure. I would have been away for four years then and I can say I am getting good support now that is needed to make progress for my team.

Finally, what do you expect from the team here in the next three games?

It would be a big step to be in the semi-finals, which would be better than our current world ranking. A lot of people say it is only a question of matches in the present format but you can do well in that one match only if you show in the other matches what you are capable of. I am still waiting for the day when I can confidently say, 'tomorrow we will play well, or not'. I can never predict with this team – I say my team will play well and they mysteriously disintegrate and then I say we may not play well enough and suddenly they turn up to produce some fantastic hockey. I am still trying to figure them out!