‘I will not go into that,’ says Alyson Annan, Tuesday evening in Rotterdam. After the Pro League match Netherlands-China (2-1) the question from the media is how she looks back on her break with the Netherlands Women. ‘It’s not interesting to me. I don’t have to go back to that anymore. As the national coach of China, I am working on a very nice project. That’s what I’m focusing on now.’
Before the first ball rolled on Tuesday evening, journalists in the press centre are told what the wishes of the former national team coach of the Dutch national team are. She has indicated that she is willing to give an interview after the game, as usual. But only questions related to China will be answered by her. She does not look back on the situation at Orange.
Yet the Dutch national team remains the elephant in the room for almost the entire conversation. In the middle of the interview, which takes place on the field, her eyes dart in all directions. In the distance, some internationals from Orange and other acquaintances make eye contact with her. Every now and then she waves at someone. Distracted by all this, Annan sometimes searches for the right words. Eva de Goede, who only participated in the warm-up on Tuesday, comes to the China half at the end of the interview to treat Annan to a warm hug.
Half an hour before the start of the match, Annan was called forward by the speaker. He roused the audience to sing ‘Long shall she live’ for her 49th birthday. When asked if it was a warm welcome, Annan replies: ‘Yeah, sure. It was fine. It’s crazy to face the girls because I haven’t seen them in a while. But no more. I haven’t spoken to them yet. I’ll wait a little while. I’ll have a little chat with them.’
After Annan left Orange in mid-January, she discovered how good she was in the market as a coach. Within a day of the announcement, she already received a call from the Chinese hockey association, she says. Annan pushed the decision of whether to go into business with the Asians. At first, she thought it was too early. But the Chinese kept calling her. After returning from her home country of Australia, where she was on holiday, she took the plunge and finalised contract negotiations.
“I first met the girls in Valencia five weeks ago. I didn’t know anyone at all. I also did not put together the selection myself. Not only that, but I got a group of players and I had to participate. I trust the staff’s choices,” Annan says. ‘I really like the adventure in China. It is educational, fun and challenging. I’m having a great time. The World Cup is completely unimportant to us. Of course, we want to look good, but the Asian Games are more important. We are a team in development. If we make it to the quarter-finals at the World Cup, we will be very happy. I think we should be able to do it.’
Her former coach Ric Charlesworth is her assistant
Annan does not speak Mandarin, the language spoken in China. Her players do not speak English. That is why Annan has chosen not to take place in the dug-out in the first international matches, but in the stands. On Tuesday evening sat her interpreter to her right, who calls Annan’s directions to the team. The step below her was reserved for Albert-Kees Manenschijn, her assistant at the Dutch national team, whom she took to the Chinese team. To her left was her former national team coach Ric Charlesworth, with whom she won Olympic gold as a player at the 1996 and 2000 Games.
‘I spoke to him a few times when I was on holiday in Australia. At one point he sent me a message. If you’re looking for someone, know that I’m free. Of course I won’t say no to him. He’s a great coach. I really enjoy working with him. Of course it took some getting used to. I’m used to him telling me what to do. He is used to that himself. But now I’m the coach and he’s my assistant,” Annan smiles.
Annan has not yet been to China. She will travel there for the first time after the world championship. Then she also meets the rest of the group of players.
First, at the end of this week, the big boss of the Chinese hockey association will land in the Netherlands to talk to her about a contract extension. Initially, her commitment ran up to and including the Asian Games, but these have recently been postponed by more than a year to October 2023 due to the corona pandemic. ‘If we do not qualify for the Games, the Olympic qualifiers will soon follow after the Asian Games. So as far as I’m concerned, we’ll sign up to and including Paris.’