‘All kinds of things will go wrong in India but that’s just the way it goes there….I like the culture’: Netherlands’ Hockey coach Jeroen Delmee

Last November, the Netherlands’ hockey coach Jeroen Delmee, who has played in four world cups, was bang on about what to expect from India. “The accommodations and the two fields there are not finished yet, as we can see from photos and videos that are circulating. But that is typically India: everything will be delivered just in time. But I’m not surprised if the walls are still wet,” he told De Telegraaf. The walls are indeed still wet; two days before hosting its first-ever World Cup match, Rourkela’s Birsa Munda Stadium still resembles a construction site. But the Dutch knew. After their first practice session, the team’s twitter handle put up a heart emoji.

Their coach Delmee, 49, does love India and seems to know it well too. He has been well-informed by his former teammate Floris Jan Bovelander, another old India hand whose foundation has a number of projects in Odisha. “If necessary, they [Indian authorities] will send a thousand men to assemble the chairs. Really: it will all be done in time. Only: you should not come a day early.” Or as Delmee put it: “You know in advance that all kinds of things will go wrong, but that’s just the way it goes there. There’s no point in worrying about that. It is what it is. I like the culture and the way hockey is experienced.”

De Telegraaf also quizzed the coach in December again about the world cup in India and what can be expected from the Netherlands team.

“I have nothing to complain about, the boys are very good at it. It is a new group, a team that is completely different from the old Orange of Tokyo. You all have boys who want to, some of whom have a bad hangover from Tokyo. Those guys are like it’s once and never again. It’s well organized, even the reserves and the guys who don’t even go to India train hard. They want to show me that I made a mistake. That’s how you do it,” Delmee said.

They have been preparing keeping in mind the weather in Odisha. “In India the temperatures will be ‘slightly’ better, around 30 degrees. But because we are now allowed to exchange continuously, you can regulate things much better. By adjusting the playing time and rest periods, the boys can still give full throttle at the end of the World Cup,” Delmee said.

In the eyes of the coach, the world cup in India will give him a measure of where his all-new team stands ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“’India’ is the first measurement moment on the way to ‘Paris 2024’. Many boys are no longer ‘in the shadow of’, but now have to take the lead. You can’t train that, but you have to experience it, in my experience. When I see how they handled it, I have every confidence in that. They have gotten better every month since last October. Thanks to a healthy chunk of work ethic.”

Delmee played in four world cups and in the time of the old rules. “The hockey of that time can no longer be compared to the hockey of today. In ‘my time’ you just played 70 minutes, there was hardly any substitution. Many players in Malaysia (2022 world cup) suffered from dehydration. At one point, Sander van der Weide, who was completely lost, went in the wrong direction. You lost three to four kilos per game. Pure moisture. At halftime you effortlessly tapped away a bottle of one and a half liters of water.”

Now, fitness still matters but Delmee says it has become such a power game that it will come down to speed and sprint ability.

“You can still win matches on fitness, especially as the tournament progresses. But it is mainly in speed and sprint ability. Hockey has been evolved. It has become a power sport, a sport for sprinters. It’s about power, explosiveness, agility. Endurance power is becoming less and less important, because you can regulate it with your switching schedule.”

“Each team has progressed so far in global hockey that you hardly get through if the opponent is well organized. You live in the transition moments, especially in top competitions. The lesser teams sometimes make a mistake under pressure.”

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