Man of strong convictions

K. KEERTHIVASAN

VINO JOHN

JEROEN DELMEE has played an important role in the Netherlands reaching the pinnacle of glory in hockey. Winner of five Champions Trophy gold medals with the Dutch team (1996, '98, 2000, '02 & '03), World Cup winner ('98 Utrecht) and double Olympic gold ('96 & 2000), Delmee's rise has been invariably linked with the fortunes of the team. As a player with the most number of International caps (324), Delmee says he is using his experience to "teach the young players the will to win."

"In the past we had more legendary players such as Bram Lomans, Floris Bovelander, Stephen Veen and Robert Jansen. From the 90s, the whole decade was golden, we won two World Cups and two Olympics and three Champions Trophy titles. No other team has performed that well in 10 years."

Now the situation has changed. The team for the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai recently had more of youth with a sprinkling of experienced players. "Now we have more young players," says Delmee. "The team is totally different from what it was earlier. My role has also changed. It's now to control the position, putting the players in the right position and distributing the ball."

Jeroen Delmee with his father Harrie. "He trains and lives as a professional," says Delmee Sr. of his son.-VINO JOHN

In a career spanning 12 years, Delmee, the skipper of the Dutch team for the last five years, says his greatest moment was winning the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. "We had a wonderful team — Bovelander, Stephen Veen, Teun de Nooijer, and myself, Jansen, the goalkeeper. We had the best team ever. We deserved to win."

Having been a member of the team that had some of the best players the world has seen, what did Delmee, as a youngster, learn from them? Delmee replies that he is his own man and that he picked up something or the other from each one of them. "You learn from every player. You don't even know that you learn. I had my own thoughts about the way hockey should be played. And it turned out to be the way the coach wanted!"

A man of strong convictions, Delmee rallied with his teammates in 2004 to oust Joost Belaart, the then coach, who Delmee felt was not taking the team to where it should be — at the top. Recollects Delmee, "We prepared for the Olympics, playing hockey, which cost us a lot of time and effort. You play to reach the top. We were convinced that we couldn't rise to the highest level with the coach. So we thought of getting another coach to reach the highest goal. In the end, the players should deserve the best. In medical treatment, they deserve the best. When players believe that they don't have the best coach for reaching the goal, they start arguing. It's not that the Association talks and the players listen. It should be both ways."

Fitness has been an unending passion for Delmee, 32, who has played in all the editions of the Champions Trophy from 1994. He owes it to his strict adherence to a fitness regimen. "Forty per cent of my life I have been with the National team and that's incredible," says Delmee. Harrie Delmee, his father and the manager and goalkeeper-coach of the Dutch team says of his son: "He trains and lives as a professional."

Delmee's swansong in all probability would be the 2006 World Cup in Germany. "I would like to be a coach. I have already done a coaching course with the Dutch Hockey Association."