Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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Posted at: Dec 5, 2018, 1:45 AM; last updated: Dec 5, 2018, 1:45 AM (IST)THE TRIBUNE @ HOCKEY WORLD CUP

Chasing new challenges and greener pastures

Out of the 16 teams participating in the World Cup, seven are playing under foreign coaches

Today’s matches

  • Germany vs Netherlands, 5pm
  • Malaysia vs Pakistan, 7pm
  • Live on Star Sports
Chasing  new challenges and greener pastures
Roelant Oltmans

Indervir Grewalin Bhubaneswar

Malaysia had a rough start to their World Cup campaign with a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands. The Dutch are a lethal side and can destroy teams on their day. One person knew that exactly. "We all know how dangerous Holland can be when they get into their flow," said Roelant Oltmans, Malaysia's coach. Having coached the Dutch women's and men's teams for over 10 years, Oltmans knew what his former team was capable of. Did it help? "I don't think it benefitted, looking at the scoreline," said Oltmans before breaking into a self-deprecatory laughter.

On Wednesday, Malaysia take on Pakistan, another one of Oltmans' former teams. Oltmans has had two stints in Pakistan, in the early 2000s and recently this year. In fact, Oltmans quit the Pakistan job only two months before the World Cup. But having been in this profession for over three decades, and having travelled so much, the 64-year-old said he didn't feel any emotions about his former team. "I had developed a good relationship with the players and staff but there are no emotions before the match. Right now, it is a do-or-die match for both teams," he said.

Flexible guy

Apart from Pakistan and Malaysia, Oltmans also worked in India, as the high performance director first and the national coach later. It cannot be easy to have to constantly adapt to different styles and cultures? "Everywhere it's different of course. The good part is that I am quite a flexible person, so I try to understand what is important in the culture of the players I am working with, along with the staff and the board (federation). I try to adapt so I can be myself and work properly in the culture of the country," he said.

No wonder he lasted five years in India -- the longest stint by a foreign coach in the country. Oltmans has been away from his family for over six years now. It must be difficult? "I have been away from my family for so long, so they are used to it," Oltmans said. "The good thing is, the world has changed from 50 years back. You can have a video chat. It makes life easier, but it is still not easy to be away from home and family for so long. But it is my profession and my family understand it. Also, I have been able to learn about different cultures."

However, the 64-year-old "young man" isn't planning to stop anytime soon. "Of course, you have to realise you are getting older. But I don't feel I have to make that decision (to retire) at this moment. I feel young, feel good, feel fit. I still enjoy what I am doing," he said.

Small pool of experienced coaches

It has been 20 years since Oltmans led the Dutch to their third world title. Though he has not coached a major team since, he still seems to be in popular demand in Asia. Is it his reputation? "Of course, it (Olympics and world titles) is history, but it is still part of who you are as a coach," Oltmans said. "But the people are not asking you to be their coach because of history but because of what you can deliver," he added.

Oltmans is not the only one to have moved out of his home nation in search of either greener pastures or new challenges. Out of the 16 teams in the World Cup, only nine have a coach of their own nationality. Apart from India's Harendra Singh, Pakistan's Tauqeer Dar, Germany's Stefan Kermas, Australia's Colin Batch, Argentina's German Orozco, England's Danny Kerry, Spain's Frederic Soyez, Canada's Paul Bundy and New Zealand's Darren Smith, the rest of the coaches are plying their trade in foreign lands.

Apart from Oltmans, Batch, New Zealander Shane McLeod and South Korean Kim Sang-Ryul, who is here with China, are the other big names who have coached more than one national team. Batch was also the coach of Belgium and New Zealand before he took over Australia. Belgium's coach Shane McLeod explained why there was a demand for certain coaches. "There is a relatively small coaching pool if you want an experienced national coach," said McLeod, who had coached New Zealand previously.

McLeod said a big reason for the small pool was that not many got the opportunity to become a national coach of their country. "There are only a few teams, or only one national coach per country. So, if you want to become a career coach, you have to move away to either learn your trade or to get more established to become the coach of a top nation," McLeod said.

While these few coaches have built a reputation, there are many who are still trying to make a name for themselves. Ireland and France have relatively young Dutchmen at the helm - Alexander Cox and Jeroen Delmee, respectively. Two-time Olympics gold medallist Delmee's reputation as a player got him a big job fairly early in his career. But the Belgium job didn't last for too long and he is here with world No. 20 France. Then there are innumerable foreigners in the support staff. Trying to establish his coaching career, former Australian player Chris Ciriello has become India's analytical coach.

Familiar conditions for foreigners

Cox, meanwhile, came up through the Dutch club system. So did Max Caldas, which is why the Dutch federation appointed an Argentine as the Netherlands coach. Kim has been the national coach of China for two terms, but he has also been working in Inner Mongolia for almost a decade.

McLeod also didn't get the Belgium top job on a platter. He was part of the club scene for many years before becoming the national coach in the run-up to the Rio Olympics. "I have been living in Belgium since 2012. I had been doing club tournaments before I was asked to take over the national side," McLeod said.

But why come back to club system after getting the chief coach's position with New Zealand? "My wife is Belgian, so I went back there to be with her and my son," he added.

Has it helped the coaching in anyway? "I have a pretty good understanding of French and Flemish, though most of the hockey is taught in English. Having learnt my coaching craft in Europe has made it easier to coach in Belgium, and understand their system," he added.

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