The national hockey team’s head coach is satisfied with the efforts made by the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) for uplifting the game which currently is in dire straits.

However, at the same time Siegfried Aikman advised that instead of remaining in its glory-filled past, must look at hockey on modern lines, which has over the years changed massively, and prepare accordingly for cut-throat present-day international competitions.

“I am happy with the PHF which is doing the best it can do. We don’t have sponsors and money but hopefully things will improve with the passage of time,” the 62-year-old Aikman said while answering a question during his talk with a group of journalists at the end of the national training camp here at the National Hockey Stadium on Saturday.

“We play modern hockey, not the hockey of old days. If they compare us continuously to the hockey of old days I don’t know what they compare. If you look at the game it has changed so much; it is now a totally different game which I am trying to teach the players. And with all due respect I think they don’t have the knowledge about that,” Dutch Aikman, who is based in Suriname, said candidly.

No members of the selection committee including chief selector Manzoor Junior are present at the ongoing training camp which signifies that Aikman has been given considerable powers to select the team — a common trend in contemporary hockey world over.

Aikman, who was returning to Holland on Saturday night, six days before the Pakistan squad leaves for Holland which is part of their Europe tour, said the tour would help the team a lot in assessing their strengths and weaknesses.

“If I will be honest, I think we are not at the level of European hockey. We can’t build fitness in three months. It takes one year to get reasonable. In Japan, I had one year to work on their physical [fitness] level,” Aikman, who coached Japan’s national team before being appointed Pakistan head coach late last year, stated.

The Pakistan squad leaves for the Europe tour on April 22 to play six matches against Holland (two), Belgium (one) and Spain (three).

Aikman said that he can’t guarantee direct berth in next year’s World Cup through the upcoming Asia Cup as he is not a magician and he neither has a magic wand in his hand.

He said tour of Europe next week before the Asia Cup was an important tour as the team would play against the world’s top teams. 

Aikman joined Pakistan’s national squad in December 2021, a few days before the team went to play the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka.

“We can improve but they [European teams] are far ahead. We need to work more to take over them; so, it will take long time and that is why I was given a long-term [five years] role [by the PHF],” Aikman, who helped Japan win gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, said.

The head coach hoped to bring improvement in the team, which could help it to qualify for the all-important World Cup. But for that, Aikman emphasised, consistency was vital.

“I am doing everything just to bring in higher pace in the game. After the Europe tour [hopefully] we will be better. We will fight like we did in the Asian Champions Trophy. After managing to get a higher pace [in our game] we will qualify for the World Cup. We have the right mentality and to achieve our goals we will have to maintain it for a longer period.”

Talking about the on-field action, the coach expressed his short-term plans for the players.

“I want them to understand the tactics, understand the roles and responsibility to connect and communicate, play well and not to confront umpires even if umpires make mistakes,” he elaborated. “They [players] should convey their view to the umpire but keep on playing and not complain.

He added, “And my long-term plan is to create such a strong team which can beat every opponent everywhere.

“This is not easy; it will take time. However, I am hopeful and very hopeful. We have the talent, we have qualities and I see progress. I think when you play in Europe you will have very hard time because the pace in Europe is higher and it is the best we can do here,” Aikman stated.

“We need that sort of tough competition which challenges us. We may lose [some games] by a big margin but we have to learn from them to react better in order to become a better side like India who play many poor matches but now they have improved to play high-level games.

“We don’t have those opportunities we have to create those and that is what I want to get in Europe to assess the strength of the players and when we return home we will sit to note our mistakes and how to rectify to have a good confidence to perform well in the Asia Cup,” he added.

On lifting the faltering goalkeeping department, Aikman reckoned promising youngsters needed to be given chances.

“We have same goalkeepers, after every tournament we have complaints about goalkeepers. Now we will bring youngsters who will make mistakes but they have better potential. And we have to support them and not discard them for any mistake as it creates fear and if they have fear [of getting discarded] they can’t improve.

Therefore, my job as the head coach is to provide them a safe and secure place, and they should improve and we want to see them improve,” he stressed.

ASIF BAJWA: Meanwhile, PHF secretary Asif Bajwa, who was also present at the camp, said playing in Europe would benefit Pakistan in preparing for the Asia Cup, which also serves as a qualifier for the World Cup.

“It is good to play high-pressure matches before the Asia Cup. The Pakistan team will improve after playing against top side of Europe, which are also world’s best,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, team manager Khawaja Juniad said the 20-member squad for the Europe tour would be announced on Tuesday.

“Though Aikman was leaving for Holland [earlier], the camp will continue till the departure of the national squad to Holland on April 22. They will return home on May 6 and resume training,” Junaid said.

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