'Winning Asia Cup is the main priority'

Oltmans says India will play to their strengths

'Winning Asia Cup is the main priority'

Last week witnessed another episode of Indian hockey’s long-running soap opera. With their 2014 World Cup hopes on tenterhooks following their sixth place finish in the World League Semifinals (Round 3), Hockey India (HI) fired their ‘under-performing’ coach Michael Nobbs.

Now entrusted with the task of guiding India’s fortunes at the August 24-September 1 Asia Cup which India needs to win to secure an automatic berth for the World Cup in The Hague next year, Indian team’s High Performance Director and acting chief coach Roelant Oltmans expressed confidence of the country’s chances despite limited preparation time.

In a chat with the media following the opening day of the seniors’ camp at the Sports Authority of India campus here, the Dutchman touched on various aspects including the playing style, pressure and expectation. Excerpts:

Objective of the camp: These six weeks are going to be very important – we will work without distractions. It is a long time ago that the Indian men’s team won a major tournament. So our focus from day one is to have the best possible performance at the Asia Cup. The group is big right now and in about two weeks’ time we will reduce it and give that team the last four weeks to prepare. Everybody starts from scratch and it’s up to them to convince us. We will play a little different than we’ve done before. Skill-wise also, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

On pressure to win the Asia Cup: I’ve made one thing clear – we’re going there (to Malaysia) to win the Asia Cup. We’re not even talking about the World Cup. The World Cup is next year; it is of no interest at the moment. I can’t control winning or losing but I can prepare my team in the best possible way such that we have the highest chance of winning. I can’t promise anyone that we will win. But everyone in the country will see that the boys will work their hearts out every single minute, whether in practice or the real game.

On the style of play he intends to preach: We always talk about Australian, European, Korean styles – I don’t know what that is. We are Indians. We will play in a way that uses our strengths.  It doesn’t have to do anything with either Australia or Europe. It is our own way of playing. India is India, not Holland or Germany or Australia. And that’s what we’ll prove.

On expectations: You have to be realistic. We go to a major tournament and you already think you’re coming back with the medal. It’s completely ridiculous. We’re No 12 in the world. In the last 40 years, India hasn’t won anything. Even in Rotterdam, we were ranked six in the world and we finished sixth. I don’t think we’ll win such a tournament. In future, we will, 100 per cent. But understand it takes some time.

On whether a goalkeeping coach will be hired: I think it is important. We need to train them well and we will pay attention on improving them. We will bring in a coach for our preparation, in the beginning of August who will travel with us to Malaysia. I’m happy with the progression of our goalkeepers. We will be hiring a new foreign coach too with whom we will discuss our roadmap and see if he falls into it.

On the communication gap between coach and players: In these six weeks it is going to be very difficult, we cannot do too much. We will explain to them, ensure everything is translated well to them and ask them if they have understood well. Long term it is important for the players to improve their level of English and they should not be shy to speak the language. We have to make sure that right from the junior level their English improves because not only they have to communicate with foreign coaches, but they also need to speak with opponents and the universal language is English.

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