Another victim of administrative cover up


Should the coaches, local or foreign, pay for the sins of the administrators? An avid chronicler of India’s hockey history can show umpteen instances of that. By S. Thyagarajan.

Quite predictably, the exit of Michael Nobbs has evoked a torrent of reaction across the hockey world. The essence of the messages conveys a veneer of anguish over why the Aussie has failed to deliver. The entire episode assumes the contours of a Greek tragedy enacted for a little over two years.

Nobbs belonged to a breed of coaches who were enormously fascinated by the aesthetics of the Indian ethos. Coaches like Nobbs were passionate to give India a helping hand to bring back its hockey to the stage where it was till the Sixties.

From Horst Wein down to Ric Charlesworth, Paul Lissek and Kim Sang Ryul, all dreamed of being part of the coaching system. But any introspection into the tryst with foreign coaches since 2004 illustrates that the experiment is nothing but a fiasco.

That none of the four hired amidst all hoopla completed the term speaks volumes of a flawed system, poor player-coach equations and pathetic administrative apathy. The four — Gerhard Rach, Ric Charlesworth, Jose Brasa and Michael Nobbs — were tormented by lack of support, understanding and co-operation.

There was genuine optimism when Nobbs took guard. The powers-that-be preferred him over the rest believing that an Aussie was better suited to train Indians than a European. The argument advanced that the successful Aussie teams projected in clear terms the efficacy of the 5-3-2 format with greater finesse and fluency than the Continental outfits wedded to direct hockey.

Basically, the reasoning seemed logical. Nobbs too enjoyed his assignment, which was to polish the Indian approach with appropriate inputs like enhancing the velocity of attack, strengthening defence formations with enormous emphasis on fitness.

The trophy triumph engineered by Nobbs at the first Asian Champions Trophy at Ordos proved as a splendid starting block. Understandably, the expectation was on the upsurge indicating that the Aussie was on the right track giving the national team and its fans something to celebrate.

A podium finish at the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament last year after a win over England in the bronze medal contest was taken as another indication of progress. All along, Nobbs was given the option to alter the squads and explain the reasoning to the selection committee of his choices.

Importantly, Nobbs kept repeating that a palpable improvement, in the area of goal-keeping and defence, was imperative to stay on course. That he could not pitch on the right material, or combination in these areas contributed to his unceremonious exit.

Encouraging results on tours to France, Spain and in the Champions Trophy at Melbourne nursed the hopes despite the persistent weaknesses in defence and goal-keeping plaguing the performances.

A lot of interest centred on the Olympic qualifier in Delhi where the Indians excelled against the none-too-tough opposition. But that was enough to create the euphoria across the nation generating a debate that India can even procure a medal in the London Games.

Nobbs assumed that India was definitely on the up curve before the Games and said so in media interactions. But what followed was an unimaginable disaster. Never before had India ended the Olympics at the cellar.

Defeated, dejected and dispirited, Nobbs nevertheless put up a brave face during the media inquisition. He began the build up again to use the Hockey World League (HWL) as the route for a spot in the 2014 World Cup. India won the first phase in Delhi with ease but the tougher battle in Rotterdam offered no cheers. A sixth place put India beyond the pale of a place to The Hague.

That reverse was the last straw. By now, Nobbs was exasperated by the sequence of failures. He could well have imagined whether to continue when the situation came to such a pass, leaving only one window open for India to go and qualify as Asian Champion from Ipoh next month.

For the beleaguered Hockey India, deluged by severe criticism from all quarters for the despicable showing in international competitions under Nobbs, the easy escape was to target the coach. And it joined the chorus as though it had no role in the national squad’s preparations, plans and programmes. Like his predecessors, Nobbs was sacrificed in an administrative cover up for inadequacies.

Strangely, no heads have rolled in the selection committee, an entity that shares equal responsibility to the present impasse. As for the administrative apparatus, the less said the better.

Should the coaches, local or foreign, pay for the sins of the administrators? An avid chronicler of India’s hockey history can show umpteen instances of that.