Interview with Roelant Oltmans: "India will be at their full-strength against France and Spain"
The exit of Paul Van Ass as head coach of the Indian men’s hockey team created a crisis-like situation amidst swirling reports of frosty ties between the Dutchman and Hockey India President Narender Batra. The exit of the former Dutch coach saw Hockey India High-Performance Manager Roelant Oltmans being foisted with the responsibility of coaching the men’s side till the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Of course, this is not a ‘first’ time experience for Oltmans with the senior team as he had twice served as the head coach as a stop-gap arrangement – first at the 2013 Asia Cup and again at the 2014 Champions Trophy. The 61-year-old is geared up for the European tour, where India will visit France and Spain and play a total of five games over a two week period. Oltmans talks about the road ahead in an exclusive interview.
Q How important is the upcoming European tour?
It is going to be a crucial tour of us as we need to prepare ourselves for the Hockey World League Final Round later this year. We hope to make the most of this trip and become richer with the experience of playing this European teams, who are no pushovers by any stretch of the imagination. Playing European teams will be a big help with the Olympics just a year away.
Q Is India playing the full-strength sides of France and Spain or second-string sides on this European tour?
Absolutely! Both France and Spain are preparing for the European Championships, which will be held in August and with Olympic qualifying berth up for grabs and these teams will field the best teams against us so that there are well prepared for that event. France are a rapidly improving side and you saw how they made things difficult for Pakistan in the world league. Spain are also a formidable side and this tour will be handy for us.
Q Injuries just don’t seem to get away from the Indian team – we had three of our main players missing the world league semifinals.
Injuries will happen and you cannot control them. Hockey is a tough sport and injuries are bound to happen. We lost Manpreet and Dharamvir for the European tour due to shin and groin injuries and hopefully they will be back for the next camp. Gurwinder Singh Chandi is another one who is going through a rehab and it will take some time before he is available for selection.
Q Gurbaj Singh has kept out of the side on ‘discipline grounds’ – what’s your take?
I don’t wish to go into it but yes Gurbaj is a good player – one who has done well for the country. If you ask me if we are going to miss him, well then I would say we don’t depend on one guy to do the job for us – it’s the team that has to do it. But there is little doubt that Gurbaj is a handy player.
Q Nikkin Thimmaiah has not picked for this European tour.
He has been rested because the selectors felt that he needed a break. He had a great Sultan Azlan Shah tourney but was little inconsistent in the world league. He will get better for sure.
Q What would you say about the whole Paul Van Ass episode?
To be honest, I don’t want to say anything as a lot has been said about it and I’m just focused on the job ahead.
Q You had served the senior men’s team twice – helping them win a silver medal at the 2013 Asia Cup after the exit of Michael Nobbs and then again guided the team to a semifinal finish at the 2014 Champions Trophy after the exit of Terry Walsh. Quite a decent achievement for a stop-gap coach.
I have fond memories of both those tournaments and spending time with the boys in match situations will surely help me now.
Q Do you think our Olympic preparations have been hit big-time due to the exit of two coaches in a span of six months?
As I said before, I’m only looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.