They say that being the Manager of the England football team is the toughest job in England and being the Australian Cricket Captain the most important job in Australia, if that is the case then the hardest job in India must be being the national Hockey Coach.
Last night Dutchman Paul van Ass was relieved of his duties after just over five months at the helm. No reason has yet been given by Hockey India.
However rumours of his demise started to surface after he failed to report on time for the national team’s camp that began at the scenic Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Shilaroo, Himachal Pradesh on Sunday.
This compounded rumours that van Ass had failed to submit his report on India’s performance at the recently concluded Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Antwerp, Belgium, where India finished fourth.
Van Ass told NDTV in India “I’ve been sacked, I’ve been fired. I was told this verbally by Hockey India director Roelant Oltmans after the World League Semifinals in Belgium,” However Hockey India say his position will be reviewed on July 24th, yet the coach says he was not sent an airline ticket to attend the camp, so took that to mean he was not wanted.
India went into the Hockey World League semi Finals as the only team to have qualified for the Olympic Games in 2016 and were therefore under no pressure, however they were expected to perform to the high standard they set last year under Terry Walsh. Some would argue that expectations ran ahead of where the team actually is at this point in time.
Injuries prior to departure from India saw the squad lose Kothajit Singh, SV Sunil and VR Ragunath. the Coach dropped Rupinder Pal Singh and included Jasjit Singh Kular as the second drag flicker to Ragunath, but when the latter had to withdraw recalled Rupinder; a player who has been under an injury cloud for the past six months. This seemed strange, and was compounded when Rupinder was injured in a warm up game.
India were far from convincing against France in their opening game and only a piece of Sardara Singh magic managed to see them steal a 3-2 win when Ramandeep fired home the winner. They defeated Poland and drew with Pakistan before losing to World Champions Australia. Despite never really being in the match following some poor defending India were the first team to score two goals past the Australians eventually losing 6-2.
Following a game that was always going to be tight against Malaysia in the Quarter finals, where India needed two superb drag flicks from Jasjit to secure them victory, Hockey India president Narinder Batra somehow managed to gain access to the pitch and publicly blast the players and the coach.
One felt from that moment on van Ass was on borrowed time.
An emphatic defeat against Belgium in the semi final and the can of spray paint was being shaken, and then a 5-1 drubbing to Great Britain in the play off for third and the writing was on the wall.
As we wrote back in January when van Ass was appointed one had to ask if he was indeed the right man for the job. (Van Ass Under the Microscope) Van Ass is a motivator rather than a coach renowned for tactics and technique.
One could see what he was trying to achieve, wanting to make the skilful Indian players more adept at playing a variety of positions; yet if that was the case he chose the wrong personnel to do this, Rupinder Pal Singh looked all at sea playing on the left as did Gurmail Singh. In addition he had Gurbaj and Dharamvir Singh running in the same channel on the right and negating each other’s best attributes.
The troubling thing for Indian Hockey is that another coach has gone, and to have this happen a year out from the Olympic Games is the worst news possible. The question is who will be prepared to take on the poisoned chalice now? Van Ass’s appointment moved away from the Australian styles of Terry Walsh and his predecessor Michael Nobbs and one wonders whether they will revert back to such a style that seemed to be reaping rewards.
Many believe that the job has to go back to an Indian. With three years of the Hockey India League now history it is interesting to note that two Indian Coaches have led their franchises to victory, Cedric d’Souza at Delhi Waveriders, and Harendra Singh at Ranchi Rays. Yet as many who follow the game will know India is never that straightforward.
Roelant Oltmans remains the Technical Director of Hockey India but it would be interesting to hear what his long term vision is. This vision must have a bearing on who he recommends for the role of coach; although his recommendations can also be ignored. It would be good to hear how the structures underpinning the HIL are progressing as these are crucial to the long term future of the game in India. Previous head coaches have bemoaned the fact that often in national Camps they spend time showing the players how to set up defensively; structures players in the top nations know aged 14-15. Great work has been done by many of the coaches in the HIL yet many claim that a lot of what has been taught during the five weeks of the tournament has not been worked on from one year to the next. That is great shame and is something that needs to be addressed.
Sardar Singh who has just turned 29, is a genius, of that there can be no doubt, but last year he was over used and it affected his form. He showed in Antwerp glimpses of the Sardara of old, but it was still not enough to inspire his team in tight games; in fact others need to step up and inspire. Manpreet Singh is without doubt his heir apparent, and has shown that with consistent and mature performances as Captain of the under 21 side, and at the Ranchi Rays. He is proof of the benefits of playing in the HIL alongside the World’s best such as Moritz Furste of Germany. Birendra Lakra is another to benefit having learned much playing alongside Fergus Kavanagh.
India has the talent, they have young players who are showing the ability to learn from others and adapt those skills to their own innate skill. Now they need a coach who can tighten up their defensive game, as well as teach them tactically how to break down the top teams in the world. They need a coach who is going to be there longer than two years if they are truly to realise the dream of standing on the Olympic dais again and receiving a medal.
It is vital that whoever replaces Paul van Ass is indeed the right man for the job.