Will a foreign coach manage to settle in and deliver in time for Indian hockey ahead of Tokyo 2020?
- An analysis of the challenges of appointing a foreign coach for the Indians men's team with inputs from Gerhard Rach and Siegfried Aikman
When the Indian men's team made it to the final of the Champions Trophy and very nearly got the better of the mighty Australians in the final, coach Harendra Singh's position could scarcely be described as untenable.
July 1, 2018, was, without doubt, a red letter day in the history of Indian hockey with a promise of much more to come. Exactly two months after his appointment as coach of the senior men's team, Harendra had achieved the unthinkable by guiding India to a silver medal in the last edition of the elite and prestigious Champions Trophy.
Who could have imagined that exactly a couple of months after the glorious moment at Breda, a beleaguered and inconsolable Indian outfit would have to settle for bronze at the Asian Games?
An emotionless Indian side stood on the podium at Jakarta on September 1 and all of a sudden, Harendra seemed all-too-human after all.
In spite of the reverse, however, few could deny that the overall graph was pointed upwards and that Indian hockey was heading on a progressive albeit bumpy path.
The format of the Olympic qualifiers is such that the Indians will most likely qualify for Tokyo 2020 in spite of their inability to win gold at Jakarta. So, did Harendra really have to be shown the door?
"Graham Reid is a dedicated coach who was not very successful"
The dismay and anguish felt by the Indian hockey fraternity following the removal of Harendra Singh, refuses to die down especially since the current Indian team is in Ipoh to take part in the Azlan Shah Cup without a head coach.
Like many before him, Harendra was asked to leave even before he had time to build a squad for the future, the reasons for which remain unclear.
Reports in a Dutch website have fueled speculation that former Australian coach Graham Reid - who was until recently on a coaching assignment in Holland - is headed to India to take over the position which was left vacant when Harendra Singh was relieved of his duties in January.
"Reports in Holland say that India's new coach will be Graham Reid," said Japan coach Siegfried Aikman to Sportskeeda on the eve of his team's Azlan Shah Cup opener against India.
"He is a dedicated hockey coach who wasn’t very successful - that’s all I can say because I didn’t meet him very often. In his first year in Holland he was almost successful, and this year things didn’t go well for him."
Irrespective of the new entrant's coaching prowess - he will first need to overcome the barriers of culture and language and get past the unique bureaucratic hurdles unique to Indian sport.
Given the track record of the Indian hockey establishment, no foreign coach, other than Roelant Oltmans, managed to dig their heels in for any significant length of time.
Oltmans had, of course, the advantage of having worked in Pakistan around the time of the Athens Olympics and that was, perhaps, the reason why he outlasted many of his predecessors.
So, whenever the new head coach is indeed appointed, will the individual in question have time to familiarize himself with Indian conditions, simultaneously deliver results, and make the changes he intends to before Tokyo 2020 -- assuming, of course, that India makes it to the big stage?
Around the time when Oltmans was in Pakistan, German Gerhard Rach joined the Indian camp as the first-ever foreign head coach and was in for quite a few surprises and shocks in equal measure.
A coach with no experience of Asian culture will be a disaster: Rach
Sportskeeda requested Rach to compare the current scenario to the one he faced well over a decade ago, and in an exclusive interaction, the German shed light on the challenges that foreign coaches face in the Indian environment.
"I do not know much about Graham Reid - but any coach who has no experience with Asian culture will be a disaster in India.
"Non-Indian coaches do not understand the language and culture and attempt to introduce European techniques into Indian hockey. Indians have their own skills -- all they need is to learn to handle pressure. The coach must also be an entertainer.
"Ric (Charlesworth), Terry Walsh, and Oltmans were left stranded. Me - I didn't have the possibilities and the support. These guys had it all. But people never realized that I delivered good results.
"But, it is ok. I had a good time and learned a lot."
In an earlier interview with Sportskeeda, Rach had stated emphatically that Harendra was the best-available coach for India and that he could never quite discern why Harendra (who was Rach's assistant) was relieved of his duties before the 2004 Athens Olympics.
With SAI's current terms, I would never be able to work in India: Aikman
Regarding the recent diktat issued by the Sports Authority of India, which bars all foreign coaches in India from speaking to the media without permission, with punishments ranging from salary cuts to deportation for defiance of the decree, Rach was philosophical.
"We would have to respect the rules made by the one who is paying you. If you don't like it, one can go somewhere else, but problems are everywhere -- only, different -- that is what I learned over the years."
Aikman, however, was a lot more direct in his response.
The Dutchman had told Sportskeeda last year that India was a dream destination for foreign coaches but stated that SAI's current demands were unrealistic.
"I know what I said (about coaching India), but with terms like this, I would never be able to work in India.
"This is an impossible demand and certainly the way they just want to add this to the current contracts.....they seem to believe that a contract is not an agreement between two parties but that it’s something which makes the paying partner the owner of the one who is delivering professional services.
"This was during times of slavery and, in that case, the partner who delivered the professional services had no say at all, and it looks like SAI is heading in that direction."
Irrespective of whether or not the new coach has a proven track record, surpassing the linguistic and cultural barriers, and proceeding to survive the rigors of the India job will be just as tough for him, as it has been for over half-a-dozen determined individuals who left our shores with unfinished business.