Dutch Olympian Floris feels national men's team coach Paul van Ass can help the side overcome their hesitant nature and make them world-beaters before Rio Games
Even before there was the drag-flick in modern hockey there was an exponent who had mastered it. Floris Jan Bovelander terrorised opposition goalkeepers with his lethal hits and flicks that almost always entered the goal. His mastery saw the Netherlands win the World Cup (Lahore 1990) as well as the Olympic gold (Atlanta 1996).
Floris Jan Bovelander during a training session with young hockey players at the MHA-Mahindra stadium, Churchgate earlier this year. Pic/Atul Kamble
Bovelander, now 49, grew up in North Holland's city of Haarlem in an era when India dominated word hockey. And by the time he had finished playing – he retired in 1996 after scoring a brace in the Netherlands' Olympic gold-winning finale at Atlanta – Indian hockey had spiralled downward.
It's no wonder then that he feels for the country where hockey till date continues to have a passionate and loyal following. "Hockey has moved forward with the change in the playing surface from grass to the artificial turf and a host of other rule changes, but India unfortunately hasn't moved along with it.
"The delayed switch to turf and tactics that don't necessarily succeed on turf have been hurting India for a long time," Bovelander told mid-day over the phone from Amsterdam yesterday ahead of his arrival in the city next week for the Holland Meets Mumbai initiative by the Consulate General of the Netherlands.
Bovelander is scheduled to conduct a masterclass for coaches and hockey enthusiasts alongside other aspects of the Netherlands like food, culture, films etc that will also be promoted during the week-long event.
Bovelander recalled an instance of how Indian hockey mesmerised him. "I think it was in 1985 and India, Pakistan, England and Holland were invited to play a tournament in Kuwait on grass. I don't remember the match results or the Indian players' names, but their super stickwork and movement on grass was unbelievable.
"They made mockery of most of the defences in the tournament even as we struggled to control the ball on the grassy outfield. Even today, I'd prefer taking on a bigger and stronger Australian or European striker rather than a nimble-footed and crafty Indian forward," said the once sturdy defender, who is now associated with Dutch club Bloemendaal.
Things have been looking up for Indian hockey recently, felt Bovelander. "Winning the Asian Games title is a huge effort and that should keep the Indian players in high spirits for the upcoming World Hockey League matches. I've known (India's new Dutch coach) Paul van Ass for some time and he is a taskmaster. He will not be swayed by reputation. He will pick players purely on merit and work on creating specialist players for specific positions.
Fit and strong players
"India players were always skilful but the current lot is very fit and strong too. The only thing they lack in is confidence and that's where someone like Van Ass will be of great help. "The Rio Olympics is still some time away and Van Ass has enough time to mould this team into a world-beating side," added Bovelander, who picked German midfielder Moritz Furste as the best hockey player from the current generation.
"Furste is not a great defender or a great forward or a great midfielder, but he is a fine all round player. He plays hard on the field and then smiles off it. That's what makes a fine hockey player," Bovelander signed off.