CHENNAI: “OH, really?” That was how one source close to the women’s team responded when Express told her about the coach swap. “We weren’t informed about (Sjoerd) Marijne coming in.” That speaks volumes of how Hockey India (HI) prefers to do its wheelings and dealings. While the men’s team have got their way, again, the musical chairs with respect to Marijne and Harendra Singh could potentially hinder the women’s team, who begin their World Cup campaign in exactly 79 days.
It was only in September when HI thought it was okay to poach the chief coach of the women’s team (Marijne) to try and improve the men’s team. They have done exactly the same thing seven months down the line. After deeming that Marijne wasn’t good enough to coach the men’s team, how did HI arrive at the conclusion that he was good enough to coach the women’s team?
The ironical thing in all of this is the women’s team have actually improved under Singh, who is now the new coach of the men’s team.
He led them to Asia Cup glory (a first in 13 years) and their tournament performance meant they had also qualified for the World Cup, their first since 2010. Singh, who was largely identified as the architect behind the success, also helped Rani & Co to a historic win over England (the reigning Olympic champions) in a group match at the Commonwealth Games. While they lost to the same team in the third-place match, the women had realised they could compete against the best and beat them.
You only needed to talk to them to realise what had changed over the last two years. They went to Rio and were overawed by the occasion. The end result? Drew one and lost four. The coaches who had come before Singh had the best intentions but the language barrier prevented them from bonding. Singh ticked that box right from the first day. He not only spoke the language but connected with the girls at a very basic level and won their trust pretty soon.
But every cloud has a silver lining and the source is happy that Marijne, who helped the women win round 2 of the World League (a rung below Semifinal) at West Vancouver in April, is coming back. “I am happy he is coming back. It’s far better than appointing a new coach since we have the World Cup and Asian Games lined up this year. We have already worked with him and we are aware of his strategies. So there won’t be any problems for players working with him again.”