IMPHAL: Twenty seventeen, they said, would be a landmark year for Indian hockey. Roelant Oltmans, one of the few foreign coaches in memory to have signed a renewal on his original contract, they said, would take the team through the 2020 Summer Games. India, they said, would be one of the teams to beat at the World League Semifinal and Final. Sjoerd Marijne, they said, would take the women’s team to new heights after being appointed to head the women’s programme earlier this year.
Fast forward a year and those plans have unravelled in utterly predictable manner. Oltmans is gone, axed for failings. The Dutchman was seen as a safe bet to invest in the future — like a no-frills mutual fund that would give a decent return on investment over time. That was one of the main reasons he was given an extension late last year. But Hockey India commissioned their overused axe after a disappointing outing at the Semifinal in London. Even more curious, Marijne was named as successor.
The move surprised because HI seemingly did not follow their own ideology of going through applications, shortlisting candidates and zeroing in on the suitable one. Instead, Marijne was given the hot seat till 2020. While many in the fraternity expressed surprise, Marijne, who is currently with the women’s team in The Netherlands, doesn’t want to dwell too much on the why aspect of his posting. He is only interested in how best to carry forward HI’s vision. Excerpts...
Were you surprised when you got the call?
I was surprised in the sense that when the call came, I was with the women’s team. But I was obviously open (willing to take the job). It’s a great honour. I’ve already coached the women’s team and that was huge. With the men, it’s even bigger.
HI has a history of sacking foreign coaches. Did that cross your mind before saying yes?
Of course. I discussed it with my wife, it’s something I like to do before taking on board any challenge. But in my heart, I had immediately said yes. So, in that (whether I will be sacked) sense, I’m not worried. I’m busy with the process, busy with what I can control. I give more than 100% to it and try to do it as best as possible. At the moment my energy goes to only those things. I will not lose energy thinking about things that I cannot control.
Two tournaments this year followed by three in the next culminating with the World Cup. Have you set any preliminary targets?
The most important thing is talking to the players, getting to know them and vice versa. There on we can set goals and look at what we want. I can straight away say all kinds of things but the most important thing is knowing the players. I can say n number of things right now but the most important thing is to talk to the group and try and analyse what’s the mood. Targets can be set once that is done.
HI has unveiled a new mantra. Players will drive the agenda and coach will be there to assist. Are you on board with this?
Yes. It’s very close to my philosophy on hockey. I believe the power should be inside the team. I’m only on the sidelines. I can’t help (take a stick and start playing) when the team is playing on the pitch. While playing, critical decisions will have to be taken by players. If you don’t let them think for themselves, they won’t be able to come up with critical decisions. This kind of system will help players in learning to take right decisions at all moments. They will develop faster, and become better players under this system.
You have been in the Indian system for six months. The main differences between Dutch and Indian hockey cultures?
I don’t want to compare between the two cultures and system. There are things that are good in Netherlands and there are things that are good in India. The difference is in Holland you can play every week (league games every weekend for a fixed period every year). It’s basically like having a Hockey India League match every Sunday for six months. But in India, the existing system gives us the opportunity to train more together as a team. Both have own advantages. That’s why I’m not comparing.
You have trained under former analytical coach Roger Van Gent. Did you speak to him about this job?
Yes, because Roger is a friend of mine. He’s one of my former coaches and we also like to talk about hockey. He, of course, has a lot more experience and was here way before me. So we did speak about a lot of things.
People have pointed out you lack coaching experience with international men’s teams. Does that rankle you?
No, because I believe I’ve the right tools. I was assistant for the Spanish men’s team at the 2008 Olympics. Most of the Dutch players in the current set-up have trained under me in clubs. In Holland, in the 17 years that I’ve coached, I only coached men’s teams. I’m absolutely confident in my abilities. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do this job.
Before India women’s team, he was coach of the Dutch women’s team.
Under him the Dutch senior women’s side won a gold at the Hockey World League Semifinals in 2015.
Coached the Dutch under-21 women’s side to World Cup crown.
National head coach for the Netherlands under-21 men between 2011–2014.
Never coached a senior national men’s side.
There are no major surprises in the 18-man squad named by Hockey India for the upcoming Asia Cup in Dhaka next month. Coach Sjoerd Marijne, in his first assignment with the men’s team, has opted to keep faith in more or less the same set of players that let India down at the World League Semifinal in London (12 of that 18 will make the trip to Bangladesh). Manpreet Singh will continue to lead the side, with veteran SV Sunil named as deputy. The team will leave for Dhaka in the first week of October.
Goalkeepers: Akash Chikte, Suraj Karkera; Defenders: Dipsan Tirkey, Kothajit Singh, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar; Midfielders: SK Uthappa, Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh (C), Chinglensana Singh, Satbir Singh, Sumit; Forwards: SV Sunil (VC), Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Lalit Upadhyay, Gurjant Singh.