'Bhubaneswar was alive every day' says Max Caldas after guiding the Dutch to a World Cup silver
Max Caldas' tryst with the city of Bhubaneswar began four years ago - and the 45-year-old Argentinian has spent three December months in the capital of Odisha attempting to inspire the Dutch men's team to match the remarkable achievements of the women.
While the Kalinga Stadium did not turn out to be a lucky hunting-ground for the celebrated coach on the first two occasions, the third outing was one that neither Caldas nor the Dutch men's team will forget in a hurry.
Bhubaneswar proves to be third-time lucky for Caldas
The former Olympian guided the Dutch women to a golden triple for which he was chosen as FIH's Coach of the Year in 2014 - which was a rare honour indeed considering the fact that he won the award alongside Aussie legend Ric Charlesworth.
While the Australian men, under Charlesworth, imposed their hegemony on the hockey world with two successive World Cup triumphs and three Champions Trophy titles, Caldas was at the helm when the Dutch women won a hattrick of gold medals.
A second successive gold medal for the Netherlands women's side at the London Olympics in 2012 (the Argentinian was an assistant coach when the Dutch girls won gold at Beijing 2008), followed by title triumphs in the Hockey World League of 2013, and the World Cup of 2014 established Caldas' credentials as one of the best in the business.
After Sjoerd Marijne took over the Netherlands women's team, Caldas' first big assignment with the men was at the eight-nation Champions Trophy in 2014. At Bhubaneswar, the Dutch overcame Argentina and Germany with ease but failed to get past India in the pool stages before losing the quarterfinals to Pakistan.
The Netherlands played Belgium in a classification crossover at the Kalinga Stadium and managed to get the better of the Red Lions via a shootout before recording an emphatic win over Argentina to finish fifth.
After a disappointing fourth-place finish at Rio 2016, where the Dutch were defeated by Belgium in the semifinals and lost the bronze to Germany following a close shootout, Caldas was back in Bhubaneswar last December for the Hockey World League Finals.
Caldas' boys had a disappointing campaign losing to Spain and Belgium before going down- yet again - to Germany, in a quarterfinal shootout.
A seventh-place finish in the Hockey World League Finals was followed by a far-improved show at the Champions Trophy, earlier this year, where the Dutch won bronze at home, and by the time Caldas touched down in Bhubaneswar for the World Cup, his wards were ready and raring to go.
"We track and evaluate performance - not results"
Odisha 2018 was a tournament to remember for the Netherlands men's team who seemed to get better with every match as the tournament progressed - just how do the Dutch manage to raise the bar on the biggest stage time and again?
"We keep on tracking and evaluating performance - not the results of the games. We do this every day, every topic is open for questioning - and we stay true to this regardless of a result."
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, Max Caldas sheds light on what his team did right at the Odisha World Cup and what the coveted silver medal means for him and the boys.
In a contest that will be remembered for long by hockey lovers around the globe, the Dutch failed to get past the final hurdle in a fateful shootout against the Belgian Red Lions.
Incidentally, Caldas had taken over the men's side following the World Cup of 2014 when Holland, under the tutelage of Paul van Ass, won silver after going down by a huge 1-6 margin, in the final, to Australia - this time around though, the Dutch, missed out on being crowned champions in a match that could have gone either way.
So, what was the feeling like in the Dutch camp following the momentous gold-medal clash?
"We were sad, and disappointed of course, having come so close to winning the World Cup - but as the hours went by, we were proud of the effort, the way we played the game, and the toughness that we showed," says Caldas who is satisfied with the performance of his boys - but only to the extent a coach of his calibre can be!
"I was very satisfied with the performance. We finished second in a World Cup. Lots to be proud of - and, of course, things to improve on."
"We defended well in the second-half against India - and held the ball for long periods"
The Dutch got past a youthful Indian side in an epic quarterfinal amidst a packed and ebullient crowd, and the master coach feels his defenders did well to keep Manpreet and co, at bay in the second half, while his team maintained possession for large periods.
"We defended really well in the second half and held the ball for long during patches of play."
Indeed, the stats corroborate Caldas' claim - consider for instance the fact that both teams had eight circle entries apiece in the first half, but the Dutch managed twelve circle penetrations in the second half, while the Indians could muster up only five.
The daunting prospect of locking horns with Colin Batch's chargers in the next encounter did little to stifle the Dutch. Caldas' boys decided to take on the might of the Kookaburras by going on the offensive, as they had never done before at the Odisha World Cup - at least, not since walloping the Malaysians 7-0 in their opener.
"We never go into a game doubting what to do"
It was a daring move, indeed, considering that the occasion was a World Cup semifinal, and the men they were confronting were the defending champions, but Caldas was emphatic that attacking instincts come naturally to the Dutch who have no inhibitions once a plan is chalked out - irrespective of the nature of the opposition.
"We are confident in the way we want to play the game - attacking fits us the best, and we speak and debrief regarding all the teams we play against in just the same way. We never go into a game doubting what to do. It may or may not come out well but we believe in what we try to do."
The Dutch were truly deserving finalists in spite of a last-gasp equalizer from the Aussies, which led to a shootout - and despite the narrow loss to Belgium in the finals, the Chief Coach stressed that playing in Bhubaneswar was an experience that he would always cherish.
"It has been a great honour to be part of this World Cup," said Caldas. "It has been amazing. A great World Cup, great public, papers, and TV. Bhubaneswar was alive every day and that helped us engage with the place and perform better."