So long 2014, Hello 2015!

2014 it’s gone and it was a fantastic hockey year!

It was a year with some fuzz regarding the new FIH decision on reducing the playing time at international competitions in 10 minutes; new format is 4X15 minutes instead of good old 2X35 minutes. This new format started from September (Champions Trophy was the ‘showcase competition’) FIH legitimately alleges the game has to be shaped as a TV product, coaches, players and fans are not in the same tone in this regard… Personally I believe that before ‘sales phase’, any product needs to be consolidated as I explained in this previous post.

Internationally speaking 2014 has 2 main moments: The World Cup in Den Haag and the Champions Trophy both for women and men.

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Oh, the World Cup in Den Haag… That was something exciting for all of us, the world saw the way Dutch people are crazy about hockey! Hockey was alive and kicking (at least in the Netherlands…) with 11X11 players, 2X35 minutes, Pro, Semi and amateur players, TV live transmissions, thousands and thousands of visitors and millions of TV viewers worldwide! Romantic and with enough media exposure for a sport like ours. For some of us, purists, was a relief to realize that there is still some places in the world able to organize a hockey event with this titanic dimension in such fashion. This tournament also showcased that in modern times it is not possible to compete at the highest level without a proper professional staff and preparation.

Australia 2.0 and the coach 2.0 – It was easy to notice, if you could give a wild card directly to the final immediately after the first minutes of the first match it would be conceded to this Australia. How refreshing is to see that while we struggle and discuss about which position hockey should take in sports context worldwide, we watched a group of grown men, professionals, prepared athletes with an undoubtedly eagerness for this game. The game quality was just as outstanding as their winning mindset!

Farewell Parties – The Australian team was a group of great players lead by the most brilliant and decorated coach ever: Mr Ric Charlesworth, a visionary mastermind ahead in the game. This world cup was his last competition, this world cup, his farewell trophy. If the hockey year had a before and after WK Den Haag, International Hockey have a before and after Ric Charlesworth. Also Marc Lammers anounced an unexpected goodbye to international hockey on quitting his job as head coach from Belgium after a 5th place in Den Haag (best result ever), Lammers pushed the game further with his strive for innovation inside and outside the field. Santi Freixa also announced International retirement, during his career; he earned 193 caps and scored 126 goals since 2000 and coincided with a golden era in Spanish hockey. Freixa was a personal favorite, inspired every hockey lover with his flair, skill and fresh behavior and lifestyle. A true star from Catalonia and rare role-model. Last but not least, the one and only Luciana Aymar, the only athlete with genuine superstar status, the best female player ever, the person that make us believe that is possible to produce international icons able to inspire thousands of followers in homeland and abroad picked 2014 to (finally) stop playing at the highest level. Hockey is definitely poorer without these great champions…

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This is a woman’s world (and sport) – The competition is wide and diverse between the supersonic all mighty Netherlands crowned as World Champion, the returning Hockeyroos with their onwards and upwards #roovolution, the always professional, always passionate Argentina and the so refreshing USA (watch out for them) together with the classics England, Germany or New Zealand show us that the ambition of being the women’s number 1 sport in the world is not an utopia.

Champions Trophy Women’s – Mendoza in Argentina hosted the female competition between the 8 highest ranked teams in the World. The hockey was not so exciting as in the world cup but still was a interesting sunny tournament with stands crowded with passionate Argentinian fans where the new time format (4X15 minutes) was tested for the first time in an official environment. Luciana Aymar said goodbye, scored the winning goal (that wasn’t actually a goal) against Australia in shoot-outs and ‘her’ Argentina won.

Champions Trophy Men’s – Bhubaneswar in India was the stage for the Men’s event. Hockey world needs India, India needs to have a stable national team and to be able to, one way or another, organize major hockey events. All the ‘Bollywood soap’ about national coach Terry Walsh contractual situation didn’t affect India mature performance during this CT lead by High Performance Director / Coach Roelant Oltmans, the Indians reached semi-finals displaying some good hockey mixing their usual skill with their unusual defensive/building-up structure. India only stoped at semi-finals because they crashed against a Pakistan with a ‘nothing to lose’ mindset, always fun to see the underdog performing, especially if they are performing with an open attacking mentality and such an amount of skill (that is just pure pleasure).

India-Pakistan was one of the most exciting matches I have watched in the last years. Knowing the cultural and mainly the political complexity of these 2 countries I don’t dare to say India and Pakistan are back, although we all would love too…

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Netherlands need to match their culture with the demands of modern international hockey but Max Caldas & staff are the right guys for the job, they are experts from different backgrounds, they are ready to adapt and maybe this event was the wake-up call necessary to Dutch hockey team to understand the reason, why even being the country with more complete hockey players per square meter, they are just not solid enough to be in world’s very top. Caldas pointed the need to be more of street fighters, I like the analogy; hockey, mainly in Netherlands need to go down to the ‘street’.

Germany had a poor performance in the World Cup finishing in the 6th place, missing Moritz Fürste and having a couple of players, mostly defenders, underachieving. Taking the WC in consideration the expectation for the CT in India was high. The coach Markus Weise decided once again to use this competition to renew the Olympic Champions squad giving high competition experience to a team that featured seven members of the 2013 Junior World Cup winning side, Rio2016 is just 2 years ago… I could write an entire article about this German performance but I will sum it up in 2 names: Moritz Fürste and Tobias Hauke! In soccer you usually give the best players the shirt number 10 and place them behind the attackers assuming the playmaker role, the Germans discovered that in hockey the ‘number 10’ should play right in front of the goalkeeper as we saw with Fürste during last Champions Trophy or with Hauke with his Harvestehuder THC winning last Euro Hockey League. Among other qualities nobody builds up so effectively using a vertical/centralized game as Mr Weise and his ‘pre-orientated’ midfielders!

Hero Hockey Champions Trophy 2014 (Men)

In 2015, let’s go for evolution, not revolution!

I hope for a year of some eventual surprising winners and finalists for the sake of diversification and ‘globalization’ but some stability in rules and formats, in a way where hockey can still progressively strive (not schrink) in game development, professionalization, media exposure and fan engagement.

There is a lot of action to follow during the crutial year of qualification for the Olympic Games next year in Rio de Janeiro:

– The indoor world cup (W/M) in Leipzig, Germany in February

– EHL KO16/Final 4 in Bloemendaal, Netherlands in April

– World League round 3 in Belgium (W) and Argentina (M) in June

– European Championship (W/M) London, UK in August

– World League finals in Argentina (W) and India (M) in December

A pleasant 2015 to all Self-Pass readers and contributors.

P.S: Stay tuned because in the coming months a new and innovative project regarding hockey training will be announced…

Bernardo Fernandes

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