Hockey coaches in India have never got a fair crack of the whip. They are invariably left at the whims and fancies of the officials or the federation.
Michael Nobbs is perhaps the only Indian coach (I know since the time I started following hockey), who cannot complain about being handed a raw deal by the powers-that-be (SAI or Hockey India).
The Australian’s appointment in June 2011 injected fresh hope among hockey buffs about Indian hockey climbing up the performance ladder.
Nobbs’s candid talk about India faring well adopting Australia’s ‘attacking hockey’ was thought off as a soothing balm that was just required for the sagging fortunes of the sport in the country. Hopes of a revival in Indian hockey received a big boost when India qualified for the 2012 London Olympics in resounding style after missing the bus in 2008.
All the high hopes were brought down to earth with India’s shocking wooden spoon finish in the 2012 London Olympics, with fans, former players and coaches calling for his head.
Refreshingly, Nobbs wasn’t given the marching orders as is the tradition in Indian hockey, where a coach gets the chop after a failure in a major event. Both SAI and HI backed him to the hilt amid mounting criticism of his style of functioning in London Olympics.
The 34th Champions Trophy in Melbourne was one big opportunity for Nobbs to prove his critics wrong. Discarding as many as six senior players, including star drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, Nobbs went into the premier event with a relatively young side, which sprang a mighty surprise reaching the semi-finals and finishing fourth after making it to the event only as a wildcard entrant.
Indian hockey seemed to have picked up the pieces after the disastrous Olympics campaign as they won the Hockey World League Round 2 event in impression fashion.
Nobbs rested four key players in a bid to test its bench strength in the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, where India finished 5th.
But it was India’s failure to seal a World Cup berth in the 1st men’s Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam that again set tongues wagging about the need to relieve Nobbs of his duties.
Nobbs’s stature as India coach took a huge beating with every passing match of the Rotterdam event, and probably the patience of SAI and HI were wearing thin.
No matter what any hockey lover may say about Nobbs’s departure, the timing of his exit must be questioned. With a just more than a month to go for the 9th Asia Cup – which is India’s last hope to bag a World Cup by winning the continental event – this issue could have been handled in a much better way.
One is no way trying to defend Nobbs, but probably he could have been asked to continue till the Asia Cup before any decision is taken on his exit.
Changing a coach just a month before the Asia Cup – which has now become a make-or-break tournament for India – could prove to be detrimental to India’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
There is no doubt that Roelant Oltmans has better credentials as a coach than Nobbs. But it won’t be easy for Oltmans to suddenly double up as a national coach along with his high performance manager job, and help India in its desperate bid to seal a World Cup spot in the 9th Asia Cup with just a month left.
The writing was clearly on the wall for Nobbs, but not many would have thought that he would be booted out a month before the Asia Cup. Of course, it was a foregone conclusion that Nobbs would have been anyway asked to go if India failed to qualify for the World Cup at the 9th Asia Cup.
Clearly, Oltmans has a tough job of galvanising a side which will be low on morale. This is where the top-flight coaching credentials of Oltmans would come to the fore. Like they say the best always thrive when the chips are down and the Dutchman may also like to walk down that path.
As for Nobbs, only the timing of his exit has to be questioned and nothing else.Published 10 Jul 2013, 13:24 IST