The furor over Paul Van Ass’ dismissal has barely died down and the debate shifts to whether Indian hockey would be better served by a home-grown coach.
It is evident that Van Ass may have been on Sports Authority of India(SAI)’s payroll but Hockey India satrap Narinder Batra’s writ runs large on the appointment or removal of key support personnel.
The above assumes significance in the context of Dhanraj Pillay’s telephonic conversation with the HI chief suggesting that it’s time to look at national talent in the recruitment of coaching staff.
Speaking to DNA India, Pillay said:
“I called Batra yesterday (Monday) after all this happened and told him that it was time they considered an Indian for the coach’s job.
Batra sounded very positive about the idea of an Indian coach. He told me that they will definitely think of an Indian coach now.”
Batra confirmed the news:
“Yes, he did call me and we had a chat about this. We will take all decisions after that meeting on July 24.”
A special committee meets on Friday to deliberate over Van Ass’ fate.
Narinder Batra, meanwhile, lost no time launching a scathing attack on the Dutchman.
Calling Van Ass “a liar”, Batra claimed that he had sought the erstwhile coach’s permission before speaking to the team.
“India’s match against Malaysia got over and the team had done the victory lap. The sponsors and organisers said ‘the team wants to meet you’ and I asked if I was suppose to go on the ground. They said yes and went down’. The first person I met was Paul and then I met the team. We had formed a circle and I asked the coach if I could speak to the players. Paul said yes and that was when I started speaking to them.
I was talking to them in Hindi. I spoke for about 45-50 seconds and told them that ‘your performance needs to be consistent. You had defeated Australia in Australia. You need to be more consistent as you guys are playing together for four years now. Nobody likes to lose, not even the sponsors. So you need to be winning more’.
My next sentence would have been that forget about all the previous matches and concentrate on the upcoming games and try to be in the final. But before I could finish, Paul intervened and said ‘I am the coach and you leave’. His tone was pretty rude.
Then I left, saying that ‘we will talk about this later, we need to talk about this, Paul’. After that India played two more matches, even the women’s team was playing, I watched those matches but Paul never had the time to come to me or ask for any time.”
It is a foregone conclusion that if Van Ass’ ouster is ratified, Indian hockey, in all probability, will have an Indian coach till the Rio Olympics.
From cricket to basketball to soccer, sports federations in India have opted to hire foreign coaches to fill the lacunae between what locals can offer and what internationals bring to the table.
That it also helps counter allegations of parochialism and regionalism dogging the appointment of local candidates is besides the point.
I am not going to argue the merits or demerits of either policy.
What Indian hockey does not need is a stop-gap measure wherein a candidate steps in and molds the side till the Olympics and is then either lionized or made the sacrificial lamb depending on the results achieved.
Continuity has to be the name of the game.
And it would help even further, if recognised coaches were introduced at all levels starting from the sub-juniors to the seniors so that players are grounded in the basics at the right age.
The seniors may grab the headlines and the glory but it’s the youngsters who are hockey’s future and they need to be told in no uncertain terms that they are not being handed step-motherly treatment until they are done weaning.
Indian hockey has a new coach, Paul Van Ass, and his first real big test comes when the men in blue participate in the Hockey World League semifinals beginning June 20 in Belgium.
The Dutch manager has decided to try out a brand new strategy dubbed ‘Total Hockey‘.
Van Ass said:
“We are working on the new set up of 10 players going on the attack and all 10 coming back to defend. We have been practising the style for some time, but we will come to know about the outcome when we start playing.”
The concept is not novel.
It was first introduced by Dutch soccer club team Ajax Amsterdam in the mid-sixties.
It was refined further and used by the national side at the 1974 World Cup.
The Football Bible website describes the strategy thus:
“Total football’s main strategy is to possess the ball as much as possible. Players position themselves far from each other and pass the ball around. While the ball is being distributed, some players move around to get into good scoring position.
There are three main objectives in a total football defense: keep the ball away from the goal, intercept passes, and mark deadly strikers. Total footballers work as a unit in defense. They narrow down passing lanes and work together aggressively retrieve the ball as soon as possible.”
Total football was a response to tight man-marking employed by Italian teams. They termed it “catenaccio calcio” which literally translates to mean “door bolt football”.
The Football Bible adds:
“Coach Rinus Michels of Ajax defeated it by making his players move to different positions. This soccer strategy created a dilemma for the man-markers.
If they chased their man, they would find themselves in the wrong position when it is their team’s turn to attack. If they let their man go, they are risking the chance of leaving an attacker open.
Rinus trained his players so they can easily adapt to any position. Opponents who were not as well-adapted as the Dutch total football players found it difficult to keep up.”
Total Football, however, was not invented by Michels. It was an Englishman named Jimmy Hogan who laid its foundation in 1910. Its basic tenets were player stamina and ball passing.
Johann Cryuff, the fulcrum of Michels’ strategy, introduced a variant of Total Football as a manager with Barcelona.
It goes under the name “tiki-taka”. It is this very style that took Barcelona and Spain to the pinnacle of European and World soccer.
Can Total Hockey work for Team India?
Indian players have the dribbling skills to implement the strategy. It can also help defeat heavy man-marking of the forwards.
Do Indians have the stamina to fall back on the counter-attack? The forwards have traditionally been too laid back to rush back and defend. Can they overcome this inherent trait? Does the team, as a whole, have the stamina and versatility, especially in defense, to make this strategy successful?
Brazil, arguably the team with the best footballing skills, have never resorted to Total Football.
Can India, hockey’s Brazil, make it work?
We shall see. And we shall certainly cheer.
What he said:
“I feel when there are such problems, all the stakeholders – be it Hockey India, Terry Walsh, sports ministry, SAI – you have to lock them up in a room, let them sit across the table and trash out all these issues.”
Former India hockey skipper and COO of Olympic Gold Quest, Viren Rasquinha, is hopeful that AussieTerry Walsh will return to coach the Indian side. Walsh resigned his post after his demands for a greater say in team decisions and the ability to pick his own support staff were turned down by Hockey India (HI) and Sports Authority of India (SAI).
The Indian hockey team has turned in stellar performances under Walsh’s guidance in the past year. The highlights are a Commonwealth Games silver, an Asiad gold ensuring direct qualification for Rio 2016 and a 3-1 series victory over Australia Down Under.
“I am hopeful that he comes back. If you look at the overall results, he has done a wonderful job. The players are playing much better hockey. Leave aside the results, but in terms of the quality of hockey, their play has been very good.”
“It’s just so sad. I’m tired of speaking about it. I feel when there are such problems, all the stakeholders – be it Hockey India, Terry Walsh, sports ministry, SAI – you have to lock them up in a room, let them sit across the table and trash out all these issues. We should finally see everything for the good of Indian hockey. Good things are happening in Indian hockey for the last eight months and we should try our best to make sure that it continues.”
What Rasquinha really meant:
“And if they can’t resolve them, we should just throw away the key to the room.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“And while they’re at it, can we have some tea, coffee and snacks for the gentlemen? Terry Walsh can video-conference in, if he feels like it.”