There is a famous Jorge Sampaoli quote from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Chile had just lost to Uruguay but had won the plaudits for playing the game as it is ought to be–with grace and style.
But that was little consolation to Sampaoli, who came up with this analogy: “One night, I went to a bar; I was with a woman. We talked all night. We laughed, we flirted, I paid for several drinks of hers. At around 5 am, a guy came in, grabbed her by the arm and took her to the bathroom. He made love to her and she left with him. That doesn’t matter, because I had most of the possession on that night.”
For all the progress and stylish hockey India have been playing for the last couple of years, they haven’t won enough. Of course, there’s been an odd win or two but largely, the team has fallen short against tough opponents, especially in important tournaments. As India begin the new international season in Ipoh, Malaysia, at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on Saturday, that is one trend Oltmans is keen to change. Oltmans isn’t Sampaoli, India aren’t Chile and we’re talking hockey, not football. But some things remain same across the two sports: to have a winning attitude.
Oltmans says his priority will be to instill that in the team, which will gear up for a busy 2018 that will have Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and end with a World Cup at home. “We have to make a transition of playing good hockey to creating a winning attitude. That is what it is all about, in the end. You want to win matches and not just compete,” Oltmans says. “We have received many compliments about the matches we have played against top teams in the world. But in the end, you need to win. That’s what we need to learn, to create a winning attitude.”
The year 2018 will be a crucial one for India in determining whether the team can hope to contend for a medal at the 2020 Olympics. India will have to defend its Asian Games title, hope to improve on the CWG silver and one assumes there will be some pressure on them during the World Cup in Bhubaneswar following the junior team’s win last December.
Oltmans says the team will literally play a tournament every month between now and the World Cup, scheduled for November-December 2018. After the Azlan Shah, India are likely to play a three-nation invitational tournament involving Germany and Belgium (June 1 to 6) before participating in the World League semifinals later that month.
That will be followed by a test series against Belgium and Holland in August and the Asia Cup in September. A series against Australia is being planned for August before concluding the year at home with the World League finals, a dress rehearsal for the World Cup. “More or less, we will be playing almost every month till the World Cup next year. We were lacking consistent tournaments. There’s the Hockey India League but for rest of the year, there’s not tough domestic competition for the boys so it is best to play international test series or tournaments,” Oltmans says.
In the last couple of years, India have emerged as the undisputed best in Asia but have not been able to translate their continental dominance at the global stage. The 2014 World Cup and last year’s Olympics were both disappointing. “It’s such a competitive environment these days with about 8-9 teams who can beat each other on the day. One thing you’ll see is that no team will consistently dominate world hockey,” Oltmans says. “On real important moments, you should be the one beating the other team. And not just be happy playing beautifully.”
– Courtesy of Indian Express