Hockey World Cup: Asian players don’t want to be defenders because of lack of recognition - Japan coach
Though Japan are not part of the 16 participating teams at the World Cup, their coach is still doing the rounds of the Kalinga Stadium, watching the matches carefully, jotting down points in a notebook.
That tells you something about Siegfried Aikman who miraculously guided the world No.16 team to its maiden Asian Games gold in August-September.
Though Japan have not qualified for the World Cup since the 2006 edition, the 59-year-old is quite confident that his fast-rising team will be on the podium at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at home.
“We went to the Asian Games to win gold. We wanted to qualify for the Olympics not by virtue of being hosts, but on merit. If you qualify as the home country, no one respects you. Winning and qualifying also bring in a lot of sponsors,” said the Dutchman of Indian origin, affectionately called Siggy in hockey circles.
“Many laughed at us when we said we want to win gold. Only Harendra Singh took us seriously. He said we might play the final. Unfortunately, India didn’t make the final, we did. Now my main goal is to win a medal at the Olympics.”
Though the Dutchman’s heart wants his country to win the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, Aikman says a victory for India will be significant for the development of the sport worldwide.
“Personally, I’d like Netherlands to win because I’m Dutch! But I’d want India or Pakistan to win. Pakistan is impossible because they are not good enough. For the sake of hockey, India should win, because there’ll be more sponsors, hockey will be taken more seriously, funds will be created for grassroots hockey,” said Aikman.
“There is huge potential in (Indian) players but they lack a coaching structure. Players get high performance tactical knowledge at a very late age. The gap between the national team and others is too big and also the knowledge of coaches. Harendra is the only FIH coach who went everywhere to gain knowledge. Rest all stayed here and missed the details.”
Asked about the similarities and differences between Indian and Japanese hockey structure, Aikman said the structure is almost the same with players focused on individual skill.
“A lot of individual skills, high pace and agility — but tactically too much risk. They (Asians) only attack, they don’t like defending. My defenders think they are attackers and it’s the same here,” said the Dutch.
“The culture here is that a good defender never gets recognition. People only talk about strikers so everyone wants to be one. Japan has the same psyche.”
Interestingly, the reason why Asian style of hockey is similar is because the Japanese have always idolised Indian or Pakistani players with some even putting posters of them in their bedrooms!
“For the Japanese players, Indian and Pakistani players were role models. So they copied all they have seen over the years. They were actually afraid of India and Pakistan because they were always in awe. Now there’s belief that we cannot lose to Pakistan. India still beats us, but the day will come when they won’t be afraid of India,” said Aikman.
“My players have posters of Manpreet Singh and Harmanpreet Singh over their beds and that was very logical, considering these Indian players are superstars.”