Australian coach hopes to revive the eight-time Olympic champions’ fortunes, but can he succeed in hockey’s most high-pressure job and secure qualification for Tokyo 2020?
When Tokyo 2020 comes around, it will be 40 years since India last won an Olympic hockey medal.
Forty years of hurt since India’s men claimed gold at Moscow 1980.
In April, Graham Reid was named the side’s eighth new head coach in just under 10 years.
And the Australian hopes to succeed where those before have failed in making India a powerhouse side once again.
“I want to take Indian hockey back to where it belongs.” – Graham Reid talking to The New Indian Express
Three Dutchmen, three Australians, an Indian and a Spaniard
Not the first line in a convoluted joke, but the head coaches of the India men’s hockey team over the past 10 years.
Reid made it three Australians, and eight in total, when he succeeded Harendra Singh who was sacked in January after India fell in the quarter-finals of the World Cup on home soil in Bhubaneswar.
India’s most successful coach in recent times was another Australian, Terry Walsh, who won silver as a player in Montreal 1976.
Walsh took the India job in October 2013 with an impressive CV having led Australia to bronze at Sydney 2000 and the Netherlands to Athens 2004 silver.
He guided the team to glory at the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea, but quit the role just a fortnight later.
In his resignation letter, he said, “I am finding considerable difficulty adjusting to the decision making style of the sporting bureaucracy in India which I believe, in the long term, is not in the best interests of Indian hockey or its players.”
Now 65, Walsh was actually linked with a return to the post before Reid’s appointment.
With eight Olympic gold medals to its name, the job as India head coach is one of the most sought-after – and intense – in the sport.
India men’s hockey team head coaches in the past 10 years:
Jose Brasa (Spain) – May 2009 to November 2010
Michael Nobbs (Australia) – June 2011 to June 2013
Terry Walsh (Australia) – October 2013 to October 2014
Paul van Ass (Netherlands) – January 2015 to June 2015
Roelant Oltmans (Netherlands) – August 2015 to September 2017
Sjoerd Marijne (Netherlands) – September 2017 to May 2018
Harendra Singh (India) – May 2018 to January 2019
Graham Reid (Australia) – April 2019 to present
Reid’s battle plan
As a midfield player, Reid won four Champions Trophy titles and took silver at Barcelona 1992.
He joined Australia’s coaching setup in 2009 and helped the Kookaburras to World Cup glory in 2010 and 2014 before becoming head coach.
Reid then led Australia to the World League title in December 2015 and the Champions Trophy in June 2016.
They went to Rio 2016 as favourites for gold, but a 4-0 quarter-final exit at the hands of the Netherlands prompted Reid’s resignation.
He soon took charge of Amsterdam, where he had enjoyed considerable success as a player, combining the role with that of Netherlands assistant coach.
But interest from India and a slump in form saw him quit that post weeks ahead of his appointment as India head coach.
If Reid was under any illusions about the size of the task ahead of him, they were quickly dispelled in May’s tour of Australia.
With India not part of the new FIH Pro League, this was a rare chance for them to face a top side ahead of Olympic qualification.
They were soundly beaten 4-0 and 5-2 by the team ranked two in the world, with Reid telling India Today, “It provided me a great opportunity to view players at much closer quarters and under the pressure of a world-class team.”
India, ranked five, are not facing sides of anywhere near Australia’s quality in the current FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar.
There is pressure on them with a top-two finish needed to see them progress to the Olympic Qualifiers in November.
And Reid is keen to improve the mental side of India’s game with last year’s Asian Games semi-final defeat to Malaysia, coming after they had swept through the group stages with consummate ease, demonstrating their frailty in that area.
Winning that tournament in Jakarta would have guaranteed qualification for Tokyo 2020.
While acknowledging “cultural differences”, he told the Times of India that he could bring in a full-time psychologist to help the squad.
“In modern day sport, every player needs to be mentally stable and tough to deal with different sorts of pressures.”
Reid has pressures of his own, not least that failure to make the next Olympic Games would almost certainly see him head for the exit like so many of his predecessors.
“At the end of the day, I don’t have a choice. This team needs stability and I will try to provide that as much as I can.
“The boys need confidence to flourish and get them to understand how good they can be. The biggest thing that I want to bring to the team is consistency in performance.”
No shortage of talent
India is certainly not lacking talented players with the country winning the 2016 Junior Hockey World Cup on home soil.
After their 2018 World Cup disappointment, Olympian Manpreet Singh remains the captain and fulcrum while young midfielders like Hardik Singh and Vivek Prasad – one of the stars of Hockey 5s at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games – are sure to benefit from Reid’s input.
Despite the comings and goings at the top, the Indian team is in a far healthier state than when missing out on qualification for Beijing 2008.
Reid is hopeful he can take the side to the next level and looks to Belgium – Rio 2016 silver medallists and World Cup holders – for inspiration.
“If you go back 10 years, they weren’t even in the top 10 but they stuck around. India has made the final of the Champions Trophy last year and in 2016. Belgium lost a fair few finals before they won the World Cup.
“We need to understand there are going to be ups and downs. We need to make sure we are targeting towards Olympic qualification first and then try to be on the final podium.” – Graham Reid speaking to The Times of India