For Shane McLeod, Bhubaneswar and the Kalinga stadium, where he led Belgium to its maiden World title in 2018, bring back good memories. Having stayed in the same hotel this time as well, he hopes it will bring the Red Lions some luck for the second time in a row.
Even as the core of the champion Belgian side remains the same, one major change for 54-year-old McLeod, who was voted ‘best coach of the year’ with Belgium in 2019 and 2021, is his own role. The former head coach, who led Belgium to World, European and Olympic gold medals, may have rejoined the side as its assistant coach, but his commitment to the side remains intact.
“I took a 16-month break to go back to New Zealand and joined in a new role,” McLeod told Sportstar during an interaction on the sidelines of the Hockey World Cup.
McLeod understands the Belgian team, packed with experienced players, need some “fresh ideas” (from chief coach Dutchman Michel van den Heuvel).
McLeod has imbibed the hunger for success in Belgian culture and feels like one of them. “We don’t want to just win once and fade away. We want to keep winning,” said McLeod.
The New Zealander, one of the main cogs in the Belgian coaching staff, added that talented players are coming up in the country to carry forward the team’s success story and one could see a new look side post Paris Olympics.
At present, the focus for McLeod and his side is to continue its evolution and be ready to face newer challenges from various opponents. In his team’s quest for excellence, McLeod wishes to see Belgium take on India in the final in front of a packed house.
McLeod said the challenge of travelling and playing the World Cup at two different venues, Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, offered a nice variation. “It’s not just from hotel to stadium, but a bit of flight and a change,” said McLeod, while looking forward to chip in again in another successful chapter of Belgian hockey.