No Paris berth, tactical shortcomings marred Shopman's term - Hindustan Times

No Paris berth, tactical shortcomings marred Schopman's term

By, New Delhi
Feb 26, 2024 08:57 PM IST

The Dutch woman who quit as Indian women's hockey coach is seen as not building a bench or work more on indirect penalty corners

The writing was on the wall once India failed to qualify for the Paris Olympics. It became more evident after her teary rant against Hockey India (HI) in the media following India’s Pro League game against USA in Bhubaneswar. Friday's formal announcement that Janneke Schopman has resigned as chief coach of the Indian women’s hockey team with five months left in her contract thus was no surprise.

Jenneke Schopman during a press conference.(Somnath Sen)
Jenneke Schopman during a press conference.(Somnath Sen)

Despite working with the women's team over the last four years, the Dutch woman’s tenure will be remembered for the team's failure to qualify for the Paris Olympics, which was seen as the minimum after finishing fourth in the 2021 Tokyo Games.

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Failing to make the cut for Paris was Schopman’s lowest point, despite the team getting two chances – Asian Games and FIH Olympic Qualifiers. Though India won the 2022 Nations Cup and the 2023 Asian Champions Trophy under her, they finished ninth at the 2022 World Cup and only took bronze in the Asian Games when they needed victory for a direct berth.

“We did really well at the Tokyo Olympics and to take over that team was a very hard task. Janneke likes challenges and that says a lot about her. A lot of coaches wouldn’t have taken up the challenge," says her compatriot and former India chief coach Sjoerd Marijne, who guided the team that missed a bronze in Tokyo by a whisker.

“After Olympics you have to renew the team, you've to give young players opportunities and that will not get results immediately. It takes time as the process goes up and down. What is not easy as a chief coach of a national team is that everyone wants results and the process can’t always have positive results."

There were areas in which the team really improved under Schopman, who as a player was a master defender, helping Netherlands win the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Olympics. India’s ball possession and circle penetration improved in the last three years but the team lagged in conversion rate.

The Savita Punia-led side often ran out of ideas on entering the striking circle. The inability to find dependable strikers who would come good in important matches also hurt India.

“It is a positive sign that you are entering the circle, but the execution could have been better. At the Olympics, Australia were better in ball possession, had more circle penetration, but statistics don’t win matches. At the end of the day, it is who scores more goals," said Marijne, referring India’s famous 1-0 win over Australia at the Tokyo Olympics quarter-finals.

“Statistics provide good insight as to how a team performed but if a team chooses to play more half-court then the other team will obviously have more possession. You can’t hide behind statistics as a coach.”

While defending in penalty corners (PC) has been a perennial problem for India over the years, hours spent in the camp with experts called in from time to time also benefited the team. Rushers started running in better, forcing opposition teams to try out multiple variations. But simultaneously, India’s PC conversions kept dipping.

“One of the main reasons why we failed to qualify for the Olympics was that our PC training was not good enough. All strong teams convert when they need to in important events. If not convert directly, then indirect. Work on that. I kept seeing that our players kept hitting direct shots, whether drag-flick or slaps, during PCs despite the tactics not working,” said former India captain Pritam Rani Siwach. Four trainees from her academy are playing for India.

“I am not criticising but where were the inputs from the coach? Women have less strength than men in drag-flick and everyone is not like (drag-flicker) Gurjit (Kaur). For example, Dutch girls have a lot of strength and score easily, but Indian girls are good in variation and indirect attempts. That is our advantage which we didn’t use. At that level top goalkeepers (in the opposition) will not be giving away easy goals.”

Siwach said the lack of a solid bench strength wasn’t addressed by Schopman, who kept using the same players for all tournaments, be it major events, bilateral tours, tests or practice games. The 49-year-old says inadequate load management of senior players was another reason why the Indian team went spiralling down.

“I saw other teams change players depending on the tournaments. In India our main players played every tournament. We should have prepared our juniors by sending them to play practice or test matches. After the last Olympics we should have brought in many more juniors into the setup immediately,” said Siwach.

“If the junior girls would have been given enough match time, the bench would have been strong and would also have encouraged a kind of competitiveness in the team. It would have also increased the core group. Why only keep 20-24 players for every tournament? Our foreign coaches have definitely improved the team but where is the bench strength?”

Another former India captain Mamta Kharab, who scored the winning goal at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games final, defended Schopman. "The performances have been fine. Only because India didn’t qualify doesn’t mean the coach is not good. She performed well as a coach during her tenure,” she said.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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