Players Didn’t Perform When It Mattered Most - Arul

13/03/2024 03:11 PM

By R. Vikneswaran

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 (Bernama) -- The national men’s hockey team players should be responsible and determined to end the team’s over two-decade Olympic drought, said former head coach A. Arulselvaraj.

Arul, whose contract expired after the Speedy Tigers squad failed to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics in January, finally broke his silence to reveal that, the players didn’t perform when it mattered the most. 

He pointed out that despite having great coaches including German’s Paul Lissek, South African Paul Revington, local expert Stephen van Huizen and Dutchman Roelant Oltmans, who all had achieved numerous international accords, the national team failed to qualify for the Olympics since they last played in the 2000 Sydney Games, which raises concern.

Arul said the team performed well in 2022 to lift the maiden Sultan Azlan Shah Cup trophy in Ipoh and Asia Cup silver in Jakarta, which earned the Speedy Tigers and Arul the National Men’s Team and National Men’s Coach accords at the 2022 National Sports Award, respectively. 

 However, he said after doing decently in the World Cup in January last year and emerging runners-up in the 2023 Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) in August, his charges’ performance dipped from A to C in two Paris qualifiers - the Hangzhou Asian Games last September-October and Olympic Qualifier in Muscat, Oman early this year.

“I don’t want to blame the players, but I was always thinking why I had the same set of players but different performances…When I analysed the statistics and video, they all came to the same conclusion that in these three tournaments (ACT, Asian Games and Oman Qualifiers), we had the most ball controls, circle penetrations, and scoring opportunities, except in ACT where we scored and took our chances.

“Where else in Oman and Asian Games, we missed our chances, we couldn’t perform under pressure when it needed the most. The players need to recognise and rectify mistakes because we have players still repeating the same mistakes (defensive errors) in crucial moments, and unable to convert easy chances. 

“As a coach, you can correct the players once or twice, but after a few years still correcting the same errors, the results won’t differ. Of course, I am very disappointed since I sacrificed a lot, left my family in Dublin (Ireland) to take up the coaching job to serve the country and hockey,” he told Bernama.

At the Hangzhou Asian Games, which offers an Olympic spot for the gold medalist, the national team failed to progress beyond the group stage after defeating Thailand 9-0, Oman 11-1 and Indonesia 9-2, but was beaten 4-3 by South Korea and tied 4-4 with the hosts China to finish third in the group (top two qualify).

At the Oman Qualifiers from Jan 13-21, the last avenue for the Olympics, Malaysia finished last in the group after going down 2-3 to China, 1-4 against Great Britain and tied 3-3 with Pakistan, hence missing the chance to advance to the semi-finals, with only top three teams in the tournament earns the Paris qualifications.

Asked how the quality of players can be raised, Arul, who took charge as the Speedy Tigers’ head coach in September 2020, said the players need to train to perform under pressure and play more high-quality and tempo matches, especially against top-five teams in the world.

“Ireland, a small country, qualified for the Olympics in Rio 2016 and now Paris, because most of the players play in the European league, they play for seven to eight months, and why India is doing so well? because they play in the Pro League and the funding is big. It’s not just about going for a tour to Australia or Europe, playing five matches or waiting to play the next match against the top teams after a few months,” he said.  

Meanwhile, Arul expressed his gratitude and thanked the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) president Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal, former National Sports Council director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail, National Team Management Committee chairman Datuk Ahmad Najmi Abdul Razak and team manager Datuk Mirnawan Nawawi for their unwavering support throughout his tenure with the Speedy Tigers. 

He is expected to return to Dublin to spend time with his wife and three daughters, before taking up a new job, probably a coaching director role in an Irish club by summer.

Olympian and former national captain Sarjit Singh has been appointed as the new head coach to revive the Speedy Tigers squad, hoping to make it to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.