Adecade ago former Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) president KPS Gill triggered a trend, which interestingly, is followed even today by the men in power, Hockey India. Just before the 2004 Athens Olympics, Gill surprised everyone by appointing the little known German Gerhard Rach as coach of the Indian team. There was hope that India’s first foreign coach would rescue the sinking fortunes of the game in the country. Rach had no magic wand to take India back to the top of the rankings and expectedly, after a few uneventful months, he was sacked. A decade later, after experimenting with three more foreigners, including the refulgent Ric Charlesworth, who was the technical director of the team for a brief period, India remains exactly where they were a decade ago.

There are two foreigners at the helm of the national team today — Terry Walsh as chief coach and Roelant Oltmans as the man in charge of the national team. Ever since Rach’s sacking, India’s ranking has plummeted from No. 5 to 10 before improving to eight after the Hockey World League in Delhi earlier this month. Can Australian Walsh and Dutchman Oltmans, renowned the world over for their success in handling different teams, change India’s fortunes? The answer is no. While their appointment may be a step in the right direction, there are several other details that Hockey India needs to take care of.

Former hockey star Jagbir Singh hit the nail on the head when he said there was no harm in using foreign expertise to improve the performance of the team, but at the same time we need to take a close look at the grassroots level. “Remember, water always flows from the top. So if the national team does well it has a positive effect on all levels of the game. I’m in favour of using foreign expertise,” Jagbir said. “But this is a temporary arrangement. We need to train our coaches who are working at the grassroots level. That’s an area which needs restructuring.”

What Spaniard Jose Brasa did during his one-and-half year stint with the hockey team was a grim pointer to the fact that a foreign coach, even one of exceptional calibre, alone cannot bring about a major change. For most part of his tenure, he was teaching players in the national camps how to hold the stick and hit the slap shot — the basics. The rest of the time, he was busy learning Hindi to communicate effectively with the players, most of whom could not understand English. “( Coach) Harender Singh used to interpret Brasa’s instructions and relayed it to the players in the camps.

But during Michael Nobbs’ tenure, the interpretation done by one of the support staff was poor. There was clearly a communication problem as the players at times struggled to pick up what Nobbs was saying,” an official attached to the hockey team told Times Sportal. By the time Brasa picked up enough Hindi for effective communication with the team and made the players good enough in their basic skills he was shown the door. “If a coach changes every year, it affects a young player’ style since no two coaches give similar training. But if you have a uniform system in place, where you also train your coaches, then things may be different,” he said.

Terry Walsh Australia
The three-time Olympian was named chief coach in October last year. In his first tournament as India coach, the team finished sixth in the eight-nation Hockey World League

Roelant Oltmans The Netherlands
The legendary Dutch coach was appointed as high performance manager of the team in January last year after India finished last in the London Olympics