National coach Paul van Ass shocked the hockey world on Wednesday by no longer including four-time Olympian and experienced dribbling queen Lidewij Welten in his selection . ‘I asked her if she wanted to make the decision to quit herself. She didn’t want that. She placed her fate in my hands.”
Last week, Paul van Ass’s entire training group was in Málaga, Spain. The Olympic champions met there for the first time in 2024. The place where the group spent many training hours, but where there was also sufficient time for individual conversations.
In one of those conversations, on the last day of the trip, Van Ass made the decision. He decided to drop the 33-year-old attacker with 247 caps. The national coach no longer saw a place for Welten in his selection. A decision that he absolutely did not make overnight. ‘I’ve been working on it for a long time. I also spoke a lot with Lidewij. I asked myself how much longer I had to try.’
One international match in thirteen months
Van Ass has seen little Welten in action. In fact, in the thirteen months that the national coach has been at the helm, the Brabant player has only played one official match. This was mainly due to hamstring injuries. Welten injured her hamstring in April last year during a competition match with Kampong, missed the European Championships last summer due to the same injury and had to drop out early due to new hamstring complaints during the Argentina trip in the FIH Pro League last December.
Van Ass talks about his difficult decision while walking around Schiphol. He traveled with the Dutch team to India on Thursday, where eight Pro League matches will be played in February. Wasn’t this trip the moment for Welten to put himself in the spotlight one more time?
“No,” says the national coach, just before checking in. ‘That’s what Argentina was meant for. It should have happened then, but it went wrong again for the third time. So wrong that she flew back earlier,” he reflects. ‘I can try again four times, or six times. But that’s not going to change anything. Her body struggles. It’s really sad, but I don’t see it getting any better. The team must continue and it has now been surpassed by the younger generation.’
Her body struggles. It’s really sad, but I don’t see it getting any better. The team must continue and it has now been surpassed by the younger generation. Lidewij Welten
Take control into your own hands
‘We’ve had a lot of conversations together. I asked her if she wanted to make the decision to quit herself. Give her control herself. But she didn’t want that,” the national coach continues. “She put her fate in my hands.” But Van Ass does not find that very strange. ‘Lidewij lives for her top sport. That’s how she is put together. Dreams of a fifth Olympic Games. I understand that making a choice yourself is very difficult.’
Welten, who does not want to respond to the news for the time being, will miss out on her fifth participation in the Games. She won gold in 2008, 2012 and 2021 and took silver in 2016. Van Ass understands her reaction. ‘She is angry and sad. Very disappointed. And that’s part of it.’
While his visa is being examined by customs, he continues about the other players. Because Kyra Fortuin also received bad news. ‘That is also sad, but on a different level. She has also been there for years, but has also struggled a lot. I haven’t seen her in action enough, while the rest of the group has improved.’ Van Ass also regularly chatted with Sabine Plönissen in Málaga. The Amsterdam defender is struggling with mental problems . ‘Sabine is also not part of the group now. But for her the door to the Games is not completely closed. I’m keeping an eye on her. But it is not the case that she will necessarily join up again after India.’
Eight games without De Waard
For example, Van Ass’s group heading to India now has ‘only’ twenty-four names. The name that is missing is that of Xan de Waard. The captain is struggling with an infection in her foot. It is still unclear when she will return. ‘I don’t know how her recovery is going. That is still unclear,” says Van Ass.
The midfielder is therefore missing in Asia. “It will be an important trip,” says Van Ass. He explains the importance of the competitions. ‘We play eight games in February and four more in June. And then the Games are already here. I can’t wait to see everyone in action. After that we will be one step closer to the final group.’