‘India can become World No. 1’

Marc Lammers... his money is on Indian hockey.-V. SUDERSHAN

The Dutch coach, Marc Lammers, is an avid fan of Indian hockey. His advice for the former Olympic champion is: “Success won’t happen overnight. The progression can be quicker but it all depends on your strength.” By Vijay Lokapally.

The world loves Indian hockey despite its slump. It was a game that once held the imagination of millions in the country. Glory at the Olympics, with stylists such as Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh Sr. weaving their magic, established India as the greatest hockey-playing nation until it fell on hard times. And India won its last Olympic gold medal in hockey in Moscow in 1980.

Even as despondency grips the nation on the eve of the World Cup — there’s little hope of the host nation finishing on the podium — support for India comes from beyond our shores. One of the most optimistic supporters of Indian hockey is Marc Lammers, a distinguished coach from the Netherlands.

“A winner has a plan and a loser has excuses,” says Lammers. “Success won’t happen overnight. The progression can be quicker but it all depends on your strength.”

What is it about Indian hockey that strikes him the most?

“India can compete with speed and skill. I have been watching the progress and not just the results. The Indians have been fast when displaying their skills. But the team would need more training camps because I am convinced the potential is there. India has players with superior skills and you need to tap them at the right time,” says the Dutch coach.

He adds: “With proper infrastructure, the team can dominate. But I am looking at improvement, in at least 10 years time. India can surely become No. 1, but not overnight. That won’t happen. You must have more pitches for the youth and start the process of rebuilding from the school and university level. Experts can help, but it would be nice to use the icons of the game to attract youth to hockey. A good performance at the World Cup would go a long way.”

Talking of reviving the game in India, Lammers says: “I would look at coaching a coach because India needs an Indian as a coach. We can share our experience and prepare the coaches for the job. Many things have changed in international hockey but India did not follow. India was always a good team, and is still very good, but the environment around the team has to change. I expect the team to do well in the World Cup at home.”

The latest rule change in hockey, according to Lammers, is the best that India could have asked for. As per the new rule, a player can take the self pass from a free hit. “The game becomes fast. Obviously you have to work on speed, upfront and in defence. It can affect your confidence if you don’t adapt, but if you do the world is at your feet. Hockey is an Olympic sport and in times to come I expect India and China to figure in the first six of any world tournament,” he says.

Lammers, 41, the coach of the Netherlands’ women’s team, is rated very high for his tactical brilliance. Under his guidance the Dutch national team won three consecutive Champions Trophy tournaments (in 2004, 2005 and 2006) apart from the gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

According to Lammers, hockey is an ideal sport. “It teaches you discipline, and in social life I think sport is good for health. In fact, all my players study and play; they combine sport with studies, like in the US. They play for four hours and study six hours.”