In the last 20 years Malaysian hockey had the services of 3 foreign coaches and 3 local coaches. The first of the foreign coach was Terry Walsh, who was successful in taking Malaysia to Barcelona 92 Olympics. He was assisted by a notable player who turned to coaching on his retirement and it was Stephen Van Huizen. Terry left Malaysia in acrimonious terms and through the good office of Paul Lissek, as coach of Germany, he recommended Volker Knapp to become the coach. An interesting arrangement was reached with Paul Lissek as the consultant. Assisting Volker Knapp was again Stephen Van Huizen. Volker was successful in taking Malaysia to Atlanta 96 Olympics and the finals of the Commonwealth Games 98. Unfortunately differences between the consultant and the coach, saw Volker Knapp leave Malaysia in unfriendly terms.
By this time Stephen had graduated as a world class coach having served as a pupil of Terry Walsh, Volker Knapp and in certain ways with Paul Lissek. Stephen successfully took Malaysia to the Sydney Olympics 2000, while Lissek still remained as consultant. When Paul Lissek faced a so called players revolt in the German team, he found the safe haven in Malaysia and became the national coach for Malaysia for the 2002 World Cup. Sadly Stephen had to take a step back to be his assistant. It must be noted that for all purposes, Stephen seemed to be part of a successful period in Malaysian hockey where Malaysia was featuring in all the Olympics and the World Cups (except for the 1994). Mind you 5 out of 6 tournaments and surely that would make him the most successful local coach in modern times.
Therefore when Lissek was forced to become consultant again, the hockey administrators were looking for a local coach as the national coach. On merits it should have been Stephen and rightfully he was offered. However he was put in a "fix", to choose between his banking career and a full time professional coach. For Stephen it became a cost- benefit exercise and included not wanting the family and his quality of life to suffer. So he put a remuneration package proposal which had the hockey administrators "eyes" pop out. Unable to appreciate Stephen's dilemma, they just branded him as a "gold digger" and left him out of the coaching circle. Yet years later the same decision makers were remunerating the other "gold diggers" without Stephen's wealth of experience and knowledge, in comparable amounts.
Wallace Tan took over from Lissek and his outing as a coach with the national team was a disaster. Failure to qualify for Athens Olympics 2004, World Cup 2006 and 6th at the Doha Asian Games were the credentials of Wallace. A professional, he made no excuses and was prepared to take the responsibility. Lissek still continued as consultant.
The hockey administrators had been blinded by friendships and some form of nationalistic outlook and therefore did not recognise the need to develop talents not only among players but also officials like coaches. This probably laid the foundation for the series of disasters to follow in Malaysian hockey.
The next coach appointed was Sarjit Singh, whose credentials as a player is highly noteworthy. However when he was appointed as a national coach, the hockey administrators failed to recognise the track record of the coach, particularly his qualification and achievements. Indeed it would be an impossible task as there were only a few locals ( could be counted by the fingers), who could really occupy the seat of national coach. Sarjit Singh's heavy indulgence with the management of MHF may have magnified the shortcomings of the national team particularly the failure to qualify for Beijing Olympics 2008. This was compounded by the erratic performance i.e finalists in one year for Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy and the following year hogging to the last position. Complicating the whole scenario is the allegations of "match fixing".
By which time there was already a nationwide call for change and inevitably the coach becomes the first in the "guillotine" list. The hockey administrators decided that a foreign coach is the best solution to check the slide in Malaysian hockey or maybe as an excuse to get rid of Sarjit.. Please refer to the stories relating to the search of foreign coach in Part 1 & 2 of this article.
The key question that troubles me is: Why Stephen the most successful local coach in terms of international achievements has been sidelined? Literally, 3 Olympics and 2 World Cup as coach or assistant coach and yet he is left in the cold. Simply because he wanted to safeguard the quality of life his family and to which he is accustomed too. Is that wrong?
While the hockey administrators do not go for the best local coaches, then they should get a highly recognise foreign coach, whose job also includes training coaches on "internship". Stephen is a product of that exercise. Despite the promises and 5 months into the taking over of MHF, it would seem that they are reverting to another local coach as the national coach. Tai Beng Hai is a great personality and is making the right moves. He has a good assistant in Nor Saiful but both of them shall be under tremendous pressure as the expectations are high. Is it wise to torment them with such pressure at such an early stage of their coaching career. Ideally these 2 lads should go through the "apprenticeship" as what Stephen went through before they inherit the chair of national coach.
Well ! Our hockey administrators are "short sighted", and lack the foresight which makes them"clueless" in their approach. A price Malaysian hockey has to pay, the continuing deteriorating standards in the game and ultimately our world ranking.