By Tridib Baparnash
Bhubaneswar, Dec 14 (IANS) In the past few years, every time the Indian hockey team has fared poorly in a major tournament, the axe usually fell on the head coach, a fear former stars have after the hosts crashed out of the 2018 World Cup with a heartbreaking quarter-final loss to the Netherlands here.
The Harendra Singh-coached Indian team went down 1-2 to the Dutch in a closely-contested affair at the Kalinga Stadium here on Thursday. But the important question is will Singh be made the scapegoat by the administrators of the game?
Legendary forward Merwyn Fernandes, a member of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal winning team, termed it a “negative approach”. While backing the current coach, Fernandes said any coach should be given a longer run.
“Let’s not make any drastic changes, this is a young team. I am proud of the way our players have performed in the World Cup. We also have a great batch warming the bench and waiting for their chances,” Fernandes told IANS in an interaction during the SJFI’s inaugural Young Reporters Programme (YRP) here on Friday.
Elaborating further, Fernandes, who was sharing the stage with his former teammates Maneyapanda Muthanna Somaya and Joaquim Carvalho, prescribed a rope of at least 3-4 years for a coach to build a team.
“One loss doesn’t make you a bad coach. There must be a specific time frame given to any coach to build his team. It’s unfortunate that we have lost many good coaches in the past few years but I believe every coach should get at least more than a couple of years,” he said.
Fernandes, however refused to side with Harendra Singh, who on Thursday blamed umpiring errors for the narrow 1-2 loss.
Lashing out at the on-field umpires post Thursday’s quarter-final, Harendra said: “I want to say that we can fight 11 versus 11 in a match but not 13 versus 11. The umpires cannot rob the world Cup from this team.”
However, Harendra’s defence found little support from Fernandes, who felt: “We also went through times where some decisions went against us but as professionals we need to be mentally strong.”
“Personally there were some decisions on Thursday which I believe were unfairly against us but we need to take that in our stride,” he added.
On being asked about the changes that the game has witnessed from his days, Fernandes, who was a part of the 1982 World Cup quarter-finalist Indian side, said the introduction of total hockey since 1984 has been a game changer.
“During our initial days, we did not have the ability to go beyond our positions. Earlier, forwards were only good attackers but very poor defenders. Today the forwards are as good in defence as the full backs. It’s great to see youngsters focussing on the basics of the game,” he said.
“Off-the-ball running is a new addition to the game, especially on astroturf whereas we started on natural surfaces. Man-to-man marking is also a new concept while rolling substitution has made the game much much faster. No off side rule has helped free passes inside the D.”
He also threw light on the “no goalkeeper” rule where he felt the coach has the liberty of enhancing his attacking line to put more pressure on the opposition, while admitting it involved the risk of weakening the defence during high pressure situations.
(Tridib Baparnash can be contacted at [email protected])