Coach exchange tops change in HI manual

CWG disappointment and confusion over role of players lead to unprecedented reshuffle as men’s and women’s hockey coaches swap positions

Published: 02nd May 2018 05:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd May 2018 05:05 AM   |  A+A-

Indian Hockey team (Photo : Hockey India Twitter)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Where to even begin?

That the women's coach is now the men's coach and vice-versa? That Sjoerd Marijne, demoted on Labour Day, became the 24th men's national coach to be given the pink slip in as many years? That they could have simply appointed Harendra Singh, who had applied to coach the men's team after Roelant Oltmans was sacked in September, seven months earlier?

That HI took the decision to swap the coaches when it has been reliably learnt that the body's CEO, Elena Norman, is in Australia and did not attend the meeting? That Narinder Batra, the former HI boss who holds no formal position now, attended the meeting? That HI appointed a new captain and named a 55-member list of probables when they were sure of bringing in a new coach? That HI wanted to sack Marijne but could not because of an apparent deal with the sports ministry which prevents them from doing so?

That last point is pivotal because, without it, HI may have gone through the actual process of inviting applications. Because of the said deal, they had to settle on cabinet reshuffles. This is what essentially happened at the meeting between HI and Sports Authority of India (SAI). The latter proposed the changes and the former agreed.

While Marijne was on borrowed time ever since India's fourth-place finish in Gold Coast, HI, it seems, has finally decided to make the playing staff accountable. "We have finalised our 48-member team and we have made changes and you will see that in the next few days," high performance director David John told Express. "We have obviously made changes to the leadership team. This (the decision) is a way of sending a message to the players that we need to do much better than this (finishing fourth at CWG). This is not acceptable and unfortunately, as it always happens, the coach is the one who bears the brunt."

What HI wants from the players is one unified message and not the muddled plethora of voices heard during the CWG. "There will be less presence of the leadership team. We want to make sure that the message is one. We don't want five or six people making decisions on the field. That only confuses matters and results in the team playing a fragmented match. There were a number of matches like this in Australia and it's not good," said John.

Policy to be diluted?

While Marijne has accepted the new post, he touched upon the now controversial player-driven approach in a statement. "When you involve players in the thinking process they will get more tactical awareness and learn faster. This is scientifically proven because they have to learn to take decisions on the pitch. It means that I prepare the matches and after this, I share it with the leaders (the likes of Manpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh and so on) so they can explain it in Hindi to the rest of the team."

It's obvious this did not work out the way the management wanted. In fact, this policy resulted in too many team members becoming decision makers. "We need to be more assertive in the way we play," explained John on whether the policy will be retained. "On the field, players make the decision. But I feel there were too many players trying to make decisions and that led to confusion. There was also a breakdown in communication and we want to stop that."

Considering there are six months to go for the World Cup, Singh will have to hit the ground running. He will be relieved to know his job won't be under threat even if the doesn't medal at the Champions Trophy next month. "We are after a good performance so that players can get some confidence." John refused to give those same guarantees if the team fails at the Asian Games. "The expectation is gold."

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