Jose Brasa to Roelant Oltmans: How hockey coaches have been lambs for slaughter

The unceremonious exit of Roelant Oltmans, the Dutch expert who came in as Indian hockey team’s high-performance coach and later became the chief coach, has met the same fate as his predecessors for the same reason – India’s ‘unimpressive’ performance at the international level.

other sports Updated: Sep 02, 2017 18:57 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Roelant Oltmans,India men's national field hockey team,Jose Brasa
Roelant Oltmans has been sacked as Indian hockey team’s chief coach after a string of unimpressive outings at the international level.(Getty Images)

In seven years, the Indian men’s hockey team has seen as many as five foreign coaches --- Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh, Paul Van Ass and Roelant Oltmans – being removed unceremoniously.

The unceremonious exit of Oltmans, the Dutch expert who came in as the high-performance coach and later became chief coach, has met the same fate as his predecessors for the same reason – India’s ‘unimpressive’ performance at the international level.

(Read | Hockey India fires Dutchman Roelant Oltmans as head coach ‘for lack of good results’)

It’s been the bane of Indian hockey that coaches who are brought in with great fanfare -- and with fancy salaries – don’t even last a year and the cycle keeps repeating with monotonous regularity. Over the years, while the contracts of some were not renewed, circumstances were created where the experts were left with no option but to quit. In Oltmans’ case, he has been given the boot.

Come to think of it, every exit has come at a time when the team is busy preparing for major competitions --- this time around, it’s the Hockey League Finals scheduled in December this year, not to speak of the World Cup, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games next year, where India are the defending champions.

Every coach brings to the table his own game strategy, and with the appointment of a new coach, the players have to once again start the ‘unlearning’ process in order to mould themselves in the training style of the new coach.

(Read | Asia Cup hockey in Bangladesh; India, Pakistan in same group)

For example, before Paul Van Ass, the team was more into defensive hockey blended with Indian style of playing (more of dodges), and with him taking charge, the focus shifted more towards attack, similar to European hockey.

At the time when Van Ass had quit, a top hockey player had told Hindustan Times that, “If these things (surprise exits of foreign coach) are going to happen again and again, it wouldn’t be surprising if we suffer the same horrid fate, which we had in London, in the 2016 Rio Olympics.” India finished eighth in Rio after losing the quarterfinals.

“Another top player had said that, “We need time to adapt to the training style of the new coach and these changes will have a negative impact. When things were going fine under Terry Walsh (who guided India to the 2014 Asian Games gold and helped them qualify directly for the Rio Games) and there was overall improvement in the fitness of the team, he was removed.”

The same process will start again.

From Brasa to Oltmans...

Back-to-back medals at the 2010 Commonwealth and Guangzhou Asian Games saw the rise of the Spanish foreign coach Jose Brasa. He was seen as the coach who would change the fortune of Indian hockey. Even though, the team was divided over the captaincy issue, under his leadership, the results were encouraging. But when he started asserting himself, he was shown the door.

Then came Michael Nobbs, who helped India seal a berth in the 2012 London Olympics. The victory in the qualification tournament made him the hero, but with India finishing 12th and last in London, his credentials started being questioned. After two years, the authorities realised that he was the ‘wrong choice’ and the coach, who had been given a hefty hike only a year back, was sacked.

Then came Australia’s Terry Walsh, who helped India script a dream story at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. After a gap of 16 years India had finished on top of the podium – the last being under Dhanraj Pillay’s captaincy in 1998 Bangkok Asian Games -- and qualified automatically for the 2016 Rio Olympics. But he too didn’t last long and, because of the ‘bureaucratic hurdles’, he decided return to Australia in 2014.

Michael Nobbs coached the Indian men’s hockey team from 2011 to 2013. (Hindustan Times)

After that, the command came into the hands of Paul Van Ass --- the coach who guided Holland to silver in the 2012 Olympics. But when the Rio preparations were in full swing, he was forced exit. During the World Hockey League Semi-Finals in Belgium, where India finished fourth, Van Ass had an argument with then Hockey India president Narinder Batra after the latter reportedly entered the playing field and questioned the players over the dismal show. This did not go down well with Van Ass and the Dutch expert left for his country, not joining the national camp at Shilaroo. Oltmans, who was the high-performance director of Hockey India, was given charge of the team.

Terry Walsh guided the Indian team to its first gold medal at the Asian Games after 16 years (in 2014). (Hindustan Times)

Former chief national coach Joaquim Carvalho had said then that, “Such frequent changes ‎in the foreign coaches will not create a bad impression among the coaching fraternity across the world, it will also have a negative impact in the team.”

Unceremonious exits -

Jose Brasa (Spain)

Stint: May 2009 to November 2010.

Salary: Rs 7 lakh per month.

Appointment: Brasa was appointed till 2012 London Olympics. But when India failed to earn direct qualification after finishing with bronze in the 2010 Asian Games, his annual contract was not renewed.

Exit: After India failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he helped the team win silver for the first time at the Commonwealth Games (2010). Before the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, his ‘interference’ in deciding the captain created a controversy. His assertiveness did not go down well with the authorities and he finally made an exit.

Michael Nobbs (Australia)

Stint: June 2011 to June 2013.

Salary: Rs 6.5 lakh; after the London Olympics qualifiers his monthly salary was hiked by US$ 1,000 (Rs 65,000).

Appointment: He was appointed till the 2016 Olympics, but his stint was cut short after India finished sixth at the World League Round 3 in Rotterdam.

Exit: During Nobbs’ stint, India earned the 2012 Olympic qualification and he became a celebrity. In London, India finished 12th and the countdown to his sacking started.

Terry Walsh (Australia)

Stint: October 2013 to October 2014.

Salary: Rs 10 lakh

Appointment: His appointment was made till the 2016 Rio Olympics. After completing his first year --- in which he led India to gold at the 2014 Asian Games --- he refused to work in India and went back.

Exit: After the Asian Games gold and automatic Rio Games qualification, his relation with Hockey India and Sports Authority of India deteriorated. Later, he blamed bureaucracy in India for his exit.

Paul Van Ass (Holland)

Stint: February 2015 to July 2015

Salary: Rs 7.5 lakh

Appointment: He was awarded a three-year contract till 2018. But a spat with then Hockey India president Narinder Batra cut short his tenure.

Exit: During the World Hockey League Semi-Finals in Belgium, where India finished fourth, he had an argument with Batra. He went back didn’t return to India. His name was then struck off from the list of coaches for the national camp in Shilaroo.

Roelant Oltmans (Holland)

Stint: July 2015 to September 1, 2017

Salary: Rs 9.5 lakh

Appointment: He was appointed as high-performance director in 2013 and was the interim in-charge of the team after Terry Walsh resigned in October 2014. Under him, the team won silver in the Asia Cup. After Van Ass’ exit, he was again made interim in-charge later elevated to the post of national coach.

Exit: Sacked after a string of unimpressive outings at the international level after three days of meeting of Hockey India’s High Performance and Development Committee. High-performance director David John top be in-charge till suitable replacement is found.

First Published: Sep 02, 2017 17:35 IST