Playing musical chairs with coaches

Terry Walsh… unceremonious exit.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The Indian hockey team is all set to welcome yet another foreign coach. It will be interesting to see who succeeds Terry Walsh and how quickly he gels with the team and the present system, writes Y. B. Sarangi.

After disappointing experiences with several foreign coaches, the Indian hockey team finally made satisfactory progress under Terry Walsh. However, ironically, the Australian great had to bid adieu to the team under unsavoury circumstances.

The year 2014 was one of the finest for the Indian hockey team in decades. The side earned a series of eye-catching successes despite a hectic schedule.

The primary challenge before Walsh was to make the team follow an organised pattern of play without completely compromising its attacking style of play. He made the players adapt to the change, which has been an essential factor in modern day hockey. The team responded well.

A sixth-place finish in the World League Final, a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games and an Asian Games gold medal after a gap of 16 years were the major achievements for the Indian team, under the Aussie’s guidance. India’s historic Asian Games victory also earned it a place in the 2016 Olympics.

Walsh’s good work also helped the team beat World champion Australia 3-1 in a series Down Under.

However, the Australian resigned after the Asian Games. Walsh made some demands — which, according to him, were necessary to take the team forward — in order to continue as the chief coach. The Aussie, having the experience of coaching several National sides, insisted that he should be allowed to work from his home in Perth when there was no camp and the team was not playing any tournament. He also wanted financial rewards for his good work.

Walsh’s other demand pertained to organisational adjustments to delegate specific authorities to appropriate individuals. Interestingly, the former India coach, Jose Brasa of Spain, had also said in 2010 that the head coach needed to have “full power and control” over everything related to the National team.

Even after three rounds of meetings — involving the Sports Ministry representatives, Hockey India personnel and a panel of experts — to deliberate on Walsh’s demands, the matter remained unresolved.

The Sports Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, who was agreeable to most of the demands, himself tried to sort out the issue and allowed Walsh a few days time to think over the issue.

Meanwhile, Hockey India sprang a surprise, with its president Narinder Batra questioning Walsh’s integrity. He claimed that the U.S. federation had some financial issues with the Aussie when he served in that country.

Despite the problems with coaches, the high performance director, Roelant Oltmans, stresses the need for continuity so that the Indian team builds up in the right way for the 2016 Olympics.-M. VEDHAN

Batra demanded that the top-rated coach must come clean on that before he could think of availing his service again.

Walsh reacted strongly, saying the allegation was “slanderous” and initiated legal action against the U.S. hockey federation.

As the war of words between Walsh and Batra intensified, the latter concluded that Hockey India did not need the Aussie’s service any more and started looking for a new coach.

With the Indian team all set to welcome its fourth foreign coach in about six years, there are a couple of points that need to be attended to. The first point, as the High Performance Director, Roelant Oltmans, stresses, is to ensure continuity so that the Indian team builds up in the right way for the 2016 Olympics.

The other important point, which emerged during the Champions Trophy, where India finished fourth, is consistency in performance.

“If this group remains together, it has a bright future,” says Oltmans.

With less than two years remaining for the Olympics, it will be interesting to see who succeeds Walsh and how soon he gels with the team and the present system. Hockey India’s search for a new coach will be keenly watched in the New Year.