Michael Nobbs’ exit as coach of the Indian men’s hockey team left hockey fans wondering as to whether he was stepping down on health grounds or was he actually given the chop due to his team performing below expectations.
Newspapers were splashed with headlines ‘Nobbs sacked as India coach’, which led many to believe that the Aussie was asked to go after India’s failure to seal a World Cup berth in the Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam.
The 59-year-old, who represented the Kookaburras at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, came out clear on all this ‘sack’ talk. “It’s a bit strange to read newspaper headlines screaming ‘Nobbs was sacked’. This was far from the truth as I expressed my own intent to be relieved of my duties as I was not able to cope with my health issues,” he says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.
The soft-spoken, demure Australian talked about the growing health issues that cropped up in Rotterdam on the first trip to buttress his point.
“I was not really in good shape in Rotterdam. I found out I have extremely high blood pressure and this scared me. I passed out a few times and was in such bad shape that I was not able to come out of the team hotel for the practice game against the Netherlands. There were times when I could barely walk,” he reveals.
Nobbs sounded out High Performance Manager Roelant Oltmans about his health issues towards the end of the second trip. “I told Roelant that it will be difficult for me to coach given my ailments. He asked me how long it would take me to recover and I told him it could take me two to four months to try and resolve these health issues. Later I spoke to Elena (CEO) about the same before I arrived at a decision to resign,” he discloses.
The Aussie, who took charge in June 2013, says he would have done great disservice to Indian hockey if he continued in the coaching job:
“Since I knew that it will be difficult for me to cope with the demands of India coach, resigning was the best way forward. I love Indian hockey so much and I can’t afford to be unfair to them by continuing in the coaching job while these issues concern me greatly.”
What about the talk that SAI or Hockey India was unhappy with his performance? “Well, nobody told me that. My letter from SAI clearly states that I have expressed a desire to resign given my health concerns, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
Nobbs is, however, backing India to clinch the 2014 World Cup berth by winning the Asia Cup. “Roelants Oltmans is a coach of proven credentials. I’m sure he will guide the boys to Asia Cup triumph. Look, we generally play well against Asian teams and no Asian team has so far qualified for the World Cup. I will back India to pull it off in Ipoh.”
Isn’t it a fact that foreign coaches are always expected to set things right in no time be it Nobbs, Jose Brasa or Ric Charlesworth?
He replied: “All these coaches were highly successful before they came to India and then to blame them for all the wrongs and results in Indian hockey is a bit unfair. It seems obvious hockey in India has been struggling for the last thirty years and it will take time to remedy this situation. I think there is tremendous talent in India, it just needs to be found. Not just in hockey but all sports.
“The Australian Institute of Sport has a 10,000 athlete identification scheme to identify talent, and then a number of institutes/academies to develop it. There is a need to set up hockey academies/institutes in each state which can be the feeder to the Indian team. On the identification of talent the HIL is a good thing but it is held for three weeks only so there is very little development of the athletes, I think sustained tapping of new talent needs to happen,” he puts forth his views.
He cited an example of how the Belgium team is faring so well on the international stage. “Every player in their side is playing in the top European leagues. We need to get more Indian players playing in the European and Australian leagues. That will really help initially,” he quips.
Nobbs believes there is a yawning gap in the standards of Indian domestic league and the world’s best leagues. “Indian Oil and Air India are top teams in the Indian domestic circuit but I can tell you they would struggle to beat Australian first division sides or even top European sides.”
He touched on the pertinent issue of Indian players losing their high fitness levels once they are dropped from the national side.
He felt: “Manjit Kulu is one example. A couple of years back he was a strapping youngster and looked to have a great future, but I recently struggled to recognize him in Bengaluru as he had lost weight (by around 8-10 kg) and his skills had deteriorated dramatically from when I first saw him.
“He is now back in the national camps and it will take another twelve months to build him back into a player that we can use. He doesn’t look anywhere the player he once was. This is an area of concern area, players lose their fitness levels and don’t have the same access to training methods once they are out of the Indian camp . I’m still hugely optimistic about Indian hockey but it will take time and help.”
Nobbs will leave for Australia on August 8.Published 05 Aug 2013, 23:00 IST