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‘It will be a gradual climb’

In an interview with TNS, Pakistan’s hockey coach Roelant Oltmans stresses that his team will be aiming at the Asian Games crown later this year

‘It will be a gradual climb’

The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) recently acquired the services of renowned Dutch hockey coach Roelant Oltmans for the national team. He made an immediate impact. At the Commonwealth Games though Pakistan ended seventh, there were a lot of positives. The Green-shirts remained undefeated throughout, achieving creditable draws against teams rated much higher. Mostly, they came from behind to draw level. After quite some time, the Pakistan team displayed some real game plan.

Oltmans earned major international coaching honours with his native Netherlands. His first distinction was with the Netherlands women’s team. Under his coaching, they won the 1990 World Cup. Next he was with the men’s team. Netherlands, the great hockey-loving nation, had lifted the men’s World Cup in 1973 and 1990. But they were yet to win the coveted Olympic gold. Women had won it in 1984. It was under Oltmans guidance that the nation’s dream got materialised when the men finally had the Olympics gold in 1996. Two years later, they also won the World Cup. Then he moved to football and served as the technical director for the Dutch professional club NAC. Oltmans added another feather in his cap as he saw NAC promoted to Eredivisie, the top tier of Dutch soccer.

Coming back to hockey, he was appointed Pakistan’s coach. During his first stint, Pakistan were fifth at the 2004 Olympics; they have not been able to finish above seventh since then. Next, it was home again, as the coach of the Dutch national men’s team. He performed that role until 2008.

Before taking over Pakistan’s national side, Oltmans was in India. He was initially appointed as Performance Director. After two years, in 2015, he was made the head coach of the national team as well.

In 2016, on his request, he was relieved of his duties as the performance director and worked only as the head coach until September 2017.

When he joined the Indian national team in 2013, they were ranked 13th in the world. During his time, the team rose to sixth position.

At the Commonwealth Games, Oltmans wasn’t satisfied with the physical fitness of the Pakistani players.  On his recommendations, the PHF hired the renowned Australian physical trainer Daniel Barry.

The Champions Trophy in Breda, Holland, to be held from June 23 to July 1, is Pakistan’s next assignment. In the first phase of the preparation for the event, a physical conditioning camp was conducted at Abbottabad from May 1-15, under the supervision of Daniel Barry.

Here are a few excerpts from a detailed talk with him.

What are the short-term targets?

“At the CW games, I was pleased with the skills of the Pakistani players but the fitness standards were unsatisfactory. At the Abbottabad camp, Barry put the boys through rigorous physical training and they showed a lot of improvement. Hopefully, this progress is also translated on the pitch.”

Tell us about the camp training for the Champions Trophy, which you have planned in two phases, in Karachi and Netherlands.

“The two-week camp in Karachi is already in progress after which the 33 probable players will be reduced to 22 who will fly to the Netherlands on June 4. There, the squad will be based at Noordwijk in the Western Netherlands.

“It will help in acclimatisation. We have also arranged specialised training for two vital areas. Famous goalkeeper trainer Dennis Van de Pol, who provides consultation to the top Hoofdklasse (Dutch premier league) clubs, has been hired. The legendary drag flicker Bram Lomans, Netherlands’ double Olympic gold medallist and scorer of 140 international goals, will polish the Pakistani drag flickers.

“There will also be practice matches, three against Austria and one versus the Netherlands. Then the final 18 for the Champions Trophy will be named. Hence, a well prepared Pakistani side should enter the last edition of the Champions Trophy.”

You said you were satisfied with the “skills” of the players. Will you elaborate?

“The boys have what we call the inherent oriental abilities such as the stick work and close ball control. Still, basics such as stopping and receiving require improvement.

“It is imperative that they adapt to the system, that is, everyone should know his role within the team and also as per the situation. They should follow the game plan. The boys appear to be quick learners as seen at the CW games after just a two-week camp.”

Where do you see Pakistan at the Champions Trophy?

“At the time of signing the contract, I made it clear that I would target the Asian Games, in August, and the World Cup, in December. This Champions Trophy is a six-team event. The 13th ranked Pakistan will play sides ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th in the world. Hence, we should only hope for respectable results in these games and may be a win or two.”

What about the Asian Games?

“At the Asiad, Pakistan will be aiming for gold as that would mean automatic qualification for the 2020 Olympics. It won’t be an easy task as all the other teams will be targeting the same.”

And the World Cup?

“Pakistan are in a tough pool with Netherlands (WR: 4) Germany (WR: 5) and Malaysia (WR: 12). As per the format, only the pool winner is guaranteed a quarter-final berth with the next two sides needing to win a crossover.”

Does that mean you will focus on the game against Malaysia?

“No. We will take it match by match. When the World Cup arrives, Pakistan should be capable of springing some surprise.”

What do you think are the reasons for the decline of Pakistan hockey?

“It seems the nurseries have shrunk. I visited Sialkot the other day. Sialkot has provided Pakistan hockey with great names in the past but I was surprised during my visit. The boys were simply going through the motions without any proper guidance. At Lahore, at least Dar Hockey Academy and Rana Zaheer Academy are doing a good job. Gojra, of course, has been providing quality players. There might be some others, but the hockey culture in Pakistan is no longer it used to be. More pockets should be focused. Make good training programmes, implemented by qualified coaches well versed with the modern methods.”

Ijaz Chaudhry

Ijaz Chaudhry
The author is a freelance sports journalist. He may be reached at [email protected]

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