Indian men’s hockey have pressed the ‘overdrive’ button not largely for the disappointing 9th place finish at the 15th World Cup, but more for who would take over from exiting Indian chief coach Graham Reid. Quite obviously, taking up the role of India chief coach is an highly demanding job given the sky-high fan expectations that had only accelerated after the historic 2021 Tokyo Olympic bronze medal win. Several names are floating around, but no one is sure who is actually applying for the vacant post for which Hockey India has advertised on its website.
Former Belgium Olympic and World Cup-winning coach Shane McLeod, whose name was also talked about as one of the frontrunners, made his stand crystal clear in a chat with Hockey Passion. The 54-year-old celebrated coach, who is currently unwinding in his home country New Zealand, has taken a call to be out of the India coach race. “Folks in India have reached out to me to know my current availability status. I’m not keen to move down to India simply because I have a young family in Auckland and want to devote more time for them. My kids are small – my son is 8, daughter is 6 and other son is 3 and it’s not easy to be away from them for a long time,” says the former Black Sticks forward, who has nothing but words for praise for outgoing Indian coach Graham Reid.
“Graham Reid did a decent job with the Indian team and we all can see that. Every coach leaves behind some pieces and I think he can be proud of what he has done for the Indian team. Obviously, whoever is the new coch would have his own approach towards coaching, but the challenge would be to build on what has been put in place by Reid and get the team come out all guns blazing for the Asian Games and the 2024 Paris Olympics,” he quips.
McLeod, who played for New Zealand from 1994-1996, put forth his thoughts on India’s World Cup performance. “The format of the World Cup was tough on teams – India did not lose a game in the pool stage and it was all about one bad day in office during the crossover match. New Zealand typically would have one big game in a major tournament and their encounter against India panned out to be their big game and led to the exit of the World Cup hosts,” he makes his point.
The conversation veers towards how much ground India have to make to be on par with the world’s top four sides – Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Australia. “Look, five-six years back you won’t back India to beat these top teams. But India have shown over the last few years that they can not just compete with top teams but on their day can even beat them. The challenge for India lies in retaining the consistency against the likes of Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Australia across major tournaments,” he shares his perspectives.
Australia may have finished 4th in the 15th World Cup, but they have been one of the dominant sides in the world for last many years. Barring their 4-3 win in the 2022 Five Test series against Australia at Adelaide India have found it exceedingly hard to beat them, especially in big-ticket events. McLeod offers his take. “It’s not just about India, every side struggle against Australia. Kookaburras have a style of their own – they play with such speed something you would associate with India, but they have more control alongside speed and a certain pattern to their game play that makes it tough for opposition,” says McLeod, who coached the Belgium men’s team to a silver medal finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as serving as New Zealand men’s coach for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.