The sordid tale of sacking coaches continues

What next? Paul van Ass with the Indian team players during a practice session in New Delhi. The Dutchman’s ‘sacking’ couldn’t-S. SUBRAMANIUM What next? Paul van Ass with the Indian team players during a practice session in New Delhi. The Dutchman’s ‘sacking’ couldn’t

The frequent changing of coaches is not good for Indian hockey, writes Y. B. Sarangi.

“Indian hockey cannot run on anecdotes, there has to be some reality. Some continuity is needed; the system needs to be structured. There was resistance to me as there was to Greg Chappell. The change has to come from within.”

These were the words of the hockey legend, Ric Charlesworth, hours before he boarded a plane back home on August 6, 2008, severing his ties with Indian hockey as its Technical Adviser.

Despite the change in the National federation (with the formation of Hockey India in 2009), after seven years and four foreign coaches, Charlesworth’s observations are still relevant in Indian hockey.

The recent ‘sacking’ of Dutchman Paul van Ass, who led the Netherlands to silver medals at the Olympics and World Championships, is only a continuity in a sequence of events that has been hampering the eight-time Olympic hockey champion and its quest to regain the lost glory.

The reason for van Ass’ exit — which was not surprisingly unceremonious — is an unwarranted episode that could have been sorted out amicably.

Terry Walsh (above), who guided India to considerable success including the gold medal at the Incheon Asian games, had to leave after his demands for making adequate changes to the hockey structure and delegating authorities to the right people were not met.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The Hockey India President, Narinder Batra, who must be credited for roping in sponsors for the sport and floating the lucrative Hockey India League (HIL), entering the pitch following India’s victory over Malaysia in the World League semi-finals in Antwerp and telling the players that they had to raise the bar to keep the sponsors hooked to the sport was an improper act in the eyes of van Ass. The outspoken coach asked the HI boss to leave the scene immediately, which apparently triggered the trouble.

Keeping aside the tiff between van Ass and Batra for a moment, one is compelled to ask: Do the players, who toil everyday on the pitch and represent the nation, deserve this kind of treatment from an official, no matter how big he is?

No doubt, the players, who are showered with lakhs of rupees after winning a medal in a big event, understand the economics of the sport more than anybody does. However, they don’t play the sport for money alone; they play for pride too — the pride of doing well in National colours.

Or else, why did a Dhyan Chand or a Balbir Singh sweat it out in the black-and-white age when they neither had the scope to find a hefty sponsorship package nor the opportunity to feature in a glamorous advertisement!

The unfortunate incident involving van Ass and Batra kick-started another round of muckraking, which the Indian hockey by now is so used to. Van Ass not returning to India after the World League in Antwerp, stating that he had been fired, and an HI committee recommending his sacking for not reporting at the National camp and not submitting his report on India’s performance at the World League were the fallout of the unpleasant incident between Batra and the Dutchman, who served Indian hockey only for six months.

The role of the High Performance Director, Roelant Oltmans — who reportedly first conveyed van Ass the news of his sacking — in this incident might not be clear, but the fact that Batra has been widely quoted as saying that van Ass is not a good coach gave a strong indication of the mindset of the HI top brass.

Following van Ass’ departure, the National team, despite earning a direct qualification to the Rio Olympics, is clueless even though the 2016 Games is not far away. Oltmans will be in charge of the team until the mega event.

Over the last few decades, beginning with the K. P. S. Gill era, coaches have been treated like puppets. At the time when Charlesworth gave up the India job in utter frustration and joined Hockey Australia to guide his own country to two World titles, India continued its never-ending experiments with coaches that included Spaniard Jose Brasa, Australians Michael Nobbs and Terry Walsh and van Ass.

More than a decade ago, when Gill was the chief of the Indian Hockey Federation, the German coach, Gerhard Rach, had problems working with the Indian system.

For Indian hockey, it has always been the case of one step forward, two steps backward. The philosophy and the style of handling the team differs from coach to coach, and therefore, the premature exit of a coach always upsets the balance of the team. It also means a waste of public money, as the Sports Authority of India (SAI) pays the salaries of the coaches.

Walsh, who guided India to considerable success including the gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games, had to leave after his demands for making adequate changes to the hockey structure and delegating authorities to the right people were not met.

A tendency not to rely on professionals after assigning them a job is apparent in Indian hockey. Besides there is a serious lack of patience among the people who run the show. Even worse is rubbishing a coach after falling out with him. It either speaks of our incompetence in doing a thorough background research about a person before hiring him or our penchant for finding excuses when things go wrong.

The frequent changing of coaches, foreign or Indian, paints a very poor picture of the Indian hockey administration. And most importantly, it adversely affects the sport in the country.

THE HEADS THAT ROLLED

AFP

Gerhard Rach (above)

The stocky German was appointed the coach of the Indian hockey team just before the 2004 Athens Olympics, but he lasted for only a few months. India finished seventh at the Olympics, and the nation's first foreign hockey coach had to leave following a war of words with the Indian Hockey Federation bosses.

Ric Charlesworth

The Australian legend was roped in as the Technical Adviser towards the end of 2007. During his sevenmonth stint, he was fed up with the way things worked in India. He also had issues regarding his pay.

Jose Brasa

The Spaniard, who took charge in May 2009, helped the Indian team give an improved showing. Under him, India finished eighth in the World Cup, won the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and bagged the bronze medal at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. He too left on an unpleasant note by the end of 2010.

Michael Nobbs (below)

K. MURALI KUMAR

The Australian took over the reins of the Indian team in June 2011. Under his charge, India - which had failed to make it to the 2008 Beijing Olympics - quali fied for the London Olympics amidst fanfare at home and won the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy. However, the team finished last in London. Nobbs was sacked in July 2013.

Terry Walsh

Appointed as India's coach in October 2013, the Aussie was the most successful overseas coach despite serving for just one year. He guided India to sixth place in the Hockey World League final, a Commonwealth Games silver medal, ninth place in World Cup and an Asian Games gold, which ensured India's direct entry into the 2016 Olympics. He had to go following his demands for more autonomy.

Paul van Ass

The Dutchman, who took over the Indian team early this year, lasted just six months. Under his charge, India bagged the silver medal at the Azlan Shah Cup and finished fourth in the Hockey World League semi-finals before a tiff with the Hockey India president, Narinder Batra, ensured his exit.

Y. B. Sarangi