Chief coach of the Indian men’s national hockey team, Paul van Ass, was on Monday sacked by Hockey India.
“I have been fired by Hockey India”, said the Dutchman to the media as he confirmed the news.
Barely five months into the job, uncertainty loomed large over Van Ass’ continuing as Indian men’s hockey team’s chief coach with current and former India players feeling that Dutchman’s absence could prove to be detrimental to their preparation for the 2016 Olympics.
Van Ass’s future with the Indian team was in serious doubt after he failed to report on time for the national team’s camp that began at the scenic Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Shilaroo, Himachal Pradesh on Sunday.
The theory that the Dutchman won’t be continuing as the coach gathered further steam when he failed to submit his report on India’s performance at the recently concluded World Hockey League semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium.
According to media reports, temperamental Van Ass had a public spat with Hockey India president Narinder Batra after the quarter-final match against Malaysia at the World League semifinals.
The reports said that after the match Batra entered the field of play and had a word with the players, at which Van Ass intervened and asked him to leave the field, which did not go down well with the HI president.
With Van Ass’s future in doubt, a senior member of the national team said at the end of the day it is the players who suffer the most in the frequent change of coaches.
“It (Change of coaches) definitely affects us. It affects our training, our performance, our preparation (for Rio Olympics). It takes time for players to build rapport with a coach. It takes time to understand and then adapt to a coach’s style. So, if the chief coach is changed frequently every other day it is bound to affect our performance,” a senior member of the national team told PTI.
“Under Terry Walsh we had trained for nearly one-and-half years. He got settled and got used to his style of hockey, our performance started to get better. We also qualified for the Olympics under Walsh but then he suddenly left (for some reasons). Then Van Ass came on board and we started training under him. It’s been hardly 4-5 months now there are talks that Van Ass’ is not coming and we are back to square again.
“The Olympics is just a year away and this sort of uncertainty is only going to hamper our preparation,” he said.
The player said Van Ass has not communicated anything either to the coaching staff or the players.
“He (Van Ass) has not communicated to us. We are in total dark about him. This is a short camp so it won’t be a major problem but we need to think about the long run,” he said.
The ongoing camp at Shimla will continue till July 3.
Former international hockey player and son of legendary Dhyan Chand, Ashok Kumar said it is an unfortunate situation which the national team find itself now but feels Hockey India needs to believe in a coach.
“Not doubt our Olympic preparation is in jeopardy after this development. People now have big egos in hockey and can tolerate criticism. Now-a-days we don’t debate on our performance in public forum which was there earlier. So people can’t take criticism,” he said.
“What I feel is that HI needs to believe in a coach and not put question mark. There is short time left for the Olympics, we must believe in the coach,” said Kumar, a member of India’s bronze medal winning side in 1972 Munich Olympics.
Captain of India’s 1975 World Cup winning side in Kuala Lumpur, Ajit Pal Singh, however, feels Van Ass’s is accountable to his employers and can’t just keep things in uncertainty.
Ajit Pal said Van Ass’s has contractual obligations and must inform his employers whether he is joining back or not.
“It (coach) should be a continuous process. After Walsh Van Ass took charge of the team. If we keen changing the horse frequently in between it will definitely affect us,” he said.
“Van Ass’s has signed a contract, he is not in India for holiday so he just can’t sit without informing anyone. He has to reply to Sports Authority of India or HI whether he is joining or not.”
Ajit Pal said if Van Ass quits, High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans should be given the charge of the team till the Olympics instead of appointing another chief coach.
“Time is very short and to my opinion the team should be handed over to Oltmans if Van Ass doesn’t continue. Oltmans has been in India for a long time and he has good knowledge of Indian hockey,” he said.
Incidentally, if and when that happens it will not be the first time that a foreign coach of the Indian men’s hockey team will leave the country on a sour note.
Van Ass’s predecessors Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs and Terry Walsh, all of whom were hired by SAI on the recommendations of HI at hefty salaries, left the country on an unceremonious note.
The World League semifinals in Antwerp, earlier this month, was Van Ass’s only second assignment with the team.