Will Oltmans continue as chief coach?

A decision on the future of chief coach Roelant Oltmans would be taken when the Hockey India panel, formed to evaluate the team's performance, meets in New Delhi from August 31-September 3.

Roelant Oltmans has been under the pump since India’s lacklustre performance at the Hockey World League Semifinals.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Ever since the Indian men's hockey team finished a disappointing sixth at the Hockey World League Semifinals in London, there has been speculation over the future of chief coach Roelant Oltmans. The recent Europe tour was expected to be the make-or-break outing for the Dutchman and a final decision would be taken when the Hockey India panel, formed to evaluate the team's performance, meets in New Delhi from August 31-September 3.

That meeting, which would also have High Performance Director David John in attendance, is likely to pose some tough questions to Oltmans. India has a hectic calendar in the coming months beginning with the Asia Cup in October and will have to be ready for the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the World Cup next year, besides the HWL Finals in December 2017. Given that, Oltmans may get a reprieve till at least the end of this year.

“There is not much time to hunt for a new coach. That is, in case there is a debate on Oltmans’ continuing. Yes there are issues but whether they are insurmountable or not and whether Oltmans can prove his planning will be discussed. At the same time, no one wants to suddenly throw the team into turmoil less than two months before the Asia Cup,” a Hockey India official confirmed to Sportstar.

India, Pakistan clubbed in Pool A for Asia Cup
  • Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have been drawn together in Pool A of the Asia Cup, to be held in Dhaka from October 11-22 and one of the qualifying events for the 2018 World Cup. While India automatically qualifies as host, Malaysia is the only other Asian nation to book a spot courtesy its fourth-place finish at London. As such, thrice champion Pakistan and four-times winner Korea would be desperate to win the title.
  • For India, though, it would be important to reiterate its superiority in the continent, all the more after the disappointment of London. India will begin its campaign against Japan on October 11 and take on Pakistan in its last pool match on the 15th.

The 'issues' have been both on and off the field. Several former players and coaches have criticised India's lack of a Plan B against defensive teams. Beginning with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, India's tournament outings this year so far have been below-par. The act of persisting with some senior players despite poor performances has also been questioned. The recent successes on the Europe tour by a team that had six uncapped players has increased rumblings that the youngsters need to be blooded more ahead of bigger tournaments.

“See, we all know Oltmans has been a great hockey mind but we also want to know if he has a clear Plan A, B, and C for the coming season, a blueprint to improve Indian hockey here on. What he has done so far is appreciated but there is now need to step up to another level, compete and win against the top-four. All of this will ultimately determine his and Indian hockey's future,” the official added.

The Indian team is supposed to get together for its next camp in Bengaluru from August 27 under Oltmans, who is currently on a break. Oltmans is also said to have a tenuous relationship with John and the difference in opinion, according to sources, was one of the reasons the final 18 selected for the Europe tour allegedly had the stamp of approval from John and not Oltmans. Ironically, the same 18’s performance in Europe may give Oltmans a lifeline.