"Prepare to win"

IF the value of a coach is determined by the number of victories he has chalked up in international competitions, then Maurits Hendriks, who has the looks of an academic, is entitled to an exalted place in hockey history. He is in the line of famous coaches such as Hans Jorritsma and Roelant Oltmans, who handled Dutch teams in the last decade, with extraordinary success.

-KOEN SUYK

As the second to the highly successful Oltmans, who guided the Netherlands to triumphs in the World Cup, Olympics and Champions Trophy, Hendriks, too has contributed immensely to these success stories, and won the admiration of one and all while taking the Netherlands to a back-to-back Olympic gold at Sydney.

After the expiry of his contract with the Royal Netherlands Hockey Board, Hendriks, was called upon to take over as the Technical Director of the Spanish Hockey Federation in Barcelona. In an interview with The Sportstar at Kuala Lumpur, during the last World Cup, Hendriks shared his thoughts and observations on various issues in hockey at this point of time with S. THYAGARAJAN.

Question: What's your overall view of the World Cup after watching all the 16 teams? Are the standards static or is there an improvement?

Answer: I do NOT agree that the standards are static. In an extensive analysis of some of the important matches I have seen a clear technical development. We see a increased number of 3D skills (lifted ball). Furthermore the good games were faster than in the Sydney Olympics. This was also due to a faster pitch in Bukit Jalil. There was more attacking play, look at the number of shots on goal and circle entries. With Australia and Germany leading, attacking hockey was rewarded.

What, in your estimate were the weak points of the top teams, at least those who made the last four? And why did teams like Spain, India and Pakistan not perform as well as anticipated?

Germany and Australia had very little that left to be desired. Looking at Korea and Netherlands, we can see that they did not have the same versatility in attack as Australia and Germany. Further, they did not play a defensive pressure system, being more defensive. This is a big change in their tactics since the Sydney Olympics. If I compare the top four to India, Pakistan and Spain, we see that they were better prepared and have a more professional organisation. An elaborate staff with specialists in all areas, working with the latest video software. India, Pakistan and Spain furthermore lacked in fitness. The top four has the best defensive strategy, clearly ahead of the others.

Do you agree with the view that coaching is becoming stereotyped and most coaches adopt the same technique without innovation and flair?

I still recognise clear style differences between Germany, Australia, Pakistan and the Netherlands, among others. I wonder who makes these comments, just look at the kind of defence played, zonal or man to man. Furthermore, the number of attackers used and from which positions they come. For example the Netherlands and Australia use very attacking midfield players for extra thrust. Germany has a much clearer distinction between the forwards and midfield players. But in the development of the sport some criteria have to be met by every team to be successful, like defensive work by forwards. The days that they can linger up front waiting for the odd ball to come their way are definitely over.

Do you agree with the view that the European system of coaching and playing are unsuitable for Asian countries, and that's why India, for instance, failed badly?

The Asian countries fared well except for India. But then how can a team do well if the coach has no freedom to work and is then sent home halfway through the tournament? You wonder how long the fans will put up with that kind of management of the Indian Hockey Federation. The other Asian teams performed up to par. Korea came very close again. Malaysia did better than many expected, and Pakistan played some great matches but just came up short. I think that the European style of coaching does not exist. There is only one style of coaching for me and that is: "Prepare to Win". To achieve this you take the best of what a country has to offer and try to improve that. With the Dutch team we have always looked at India and Pakistan and we continue to do so. What is wrong with them looking at us?

Now, most countries, including Asia, have discarded the 5-3-2 system. Do you think it is right? What system would you recommend for the Asians to follow? Should there be any rigidity in the systems?

People (the media) tend to be fixated on systems. The only system that works is a flexible system. Look at my old team (the Netherlands) the last few years. We played with five forwards at some times, with Stephan Veen and Teun de Nooyer coming from the midfield to support and lead the attack. And sometimes we played with two forwards looking for fastbreak options. Whatever it takes is my system.

Do you think that frequent changes in rules have affected the overall quality of hockey? What rules would you scrap?

I am an advocate of less limitations, but only for the top level. At the international level we should allow for more lifted balls, for example into the circle. I would also like to see players being allowed to raise the stick above the shoulder and play the ball. (like the goalkeeper already can). It will allow for more skill, flowing play and exciting scenes in front of the goal. Too many calls are being made for dangerous play. Players at this level have excellent control skills. I think that these changes should not apply for juniors.

What is your opinion about the standard of umpiring in the Kuala Lumpur World Cup? Some team officials have criticised the quality of supervision.

It is always easy to criticise, more important is what do managers and coaches do to improve the situation. I think there was some very good umpiring in Kuala Lumpur, but the instances were very few. How can you expect an umpire who does not have regular top matches, as the players do, to perform at the highest level? The FIH should bring in the best umpires and not look at representation from every country. Umpiring is as hard as playing, only a few are good enough!

Do you agree with the decision to reduce the number of teams for the World Cups to 12? If so, what are the flaws you notice in the 16-team format?

The problem for me was not the 16 countries competing (Cuba surprised me with some excellent attacking plays) but the format used. Any number of countries competing can be difficult if you have to play nine matches in 14 days. It would be good to have more countries at the World Cup, if we stick to certain norms.

Now that you have taken over the Spanish team, what goals have you set for yourself?

Spain is presently placed at around the 10th place in the world. That is below standard. My aim is to bring Spain into the top three in Europe again. Then into the top six in the World, permanently competing in the Champions Trophy. If we can do that in three years I will be very satisfied.

We can then adjust our goals to medal level. I am enough of a realist to know that it will take years. But the sooner we are back, the happier I will be.

How do you envisage the future of hockey? Should it remain amateur or allow professionalism to come in?

The question is already answered. In the top six hockey is a professional sport. It is a fulltime dedication to play at that level. Most players are compensated for this. In some countries better than in others.

There is a demand for staging a few tournaments on natural grass. Any comment on this?

I have always enjoyed folklore, and I will take a vacation to attend a grass tournament as a fan of hockey. A grass tournament will allow me to relax and meet up with friends recalling memories of the "good old days". And in the meantime preparing me for the next real top hockey tournament.