Graham Reid resigned as the Indian men’s hockey team’s coach on Monday, days after India’s FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup campaign ended on a disappointing note. As hosts of the event held in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, the Indian team was knocked out in the crossover stage and eventually finished a joint-ninth after the classiification matches.
The official announcement from Hockey India said that Reid, along with analytical coach Gregg Clark and scientific advisor Mitchell Pemberton, submitted their resignation letter to Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey. It has been seen as an honourable move from the federation to allow Reid to resign on his own terms rather than being sacked like the many foreign coaches before him.
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However, Reid’s leaving shows that only the manner of the head coach’s exit has changed since the new leadership at Hockey India. The new management at the national federation has continued the sports body’s tradition of letting go of its men’s team head coach after the first setback. What else could explain the decision to not convince a coach, who helped India end a 41-year wait for an Olympic medal in hockey with the bronze in Tokyo, to stay back. The same coach who managed to drill a sense of tactical discipline into the side, allowing them to challenge the bigger teams at the FIH Pro League. The same coach who instilled in the team the attitude of fighting till the final whistle – something that saw the squad score late goals.
This is not denying that India’s home World Cup campaign wasn’t below par or that Reid did not err.
But with the Asian Games coming up in under eight months, and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in just over a year, the decision to let Reid walk away comes across as a knee-jerk one. Notwithstanding what it does for the morale of the team.
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Additionally, the new coach coming in may not have adequate time as Reid did due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to settle with the team quickly enough for the two major tournaments.
That’s not enough time for a new coach to settle in.
Granted, freshly-minted World Cup winners Germany have a coach working with them for less than a year, but their circumstances were highly different. Andre Henning, the 39-year-old German coach, worked with the federation for years, had the advantage of picking players from a professional league and coached a majority of his players for a long time when he was a manager at Rot-Weiss Köln.
Whoever is appointed as the next manager will have none of Henning’s advantages. Will Hockey India sack the new coach should India put in underwhelming performances at the Asian Games and/or the Olympics?
For many Indian hockey fans, Reid will be remembered not just for Tokyo, but also for the sight of seeing him join his team in singing the Indian national anthem before matches.
Though he had a perpetual poker face, Reid was rather approachable and would tend to make media correspondents feel at home despite the professional setting.
Although he famously refused to speak about any player during press interactions, Reid loved to talk tactics. Be it talking about the importance of 3D skills or how Goal Opportunity Total, or GOT, scores is a good metric to assess attacks.
A self-confessed mentality person, Reid was a big advocate of using self-help and motivational quotes to build his team’s mental strength. And it also seemed like the team absorbed the knowledge he was imparting. At a press conference in Rourkela ahead of India’s match against England, while talking about one of his philosophies, Reid was interrupted by his captain, Harmanpreet Singh, who proceeded to correct his coach on the terms he actually used, prompting Reid to quip, “You see! They’re paying attention. It’s working!”
It is therefore ironic that just days after India were knocked out, Reid would confess that maybe his ideas hadn’t fully been understood by the team and that the team needed a mental conditioning coach to help them out.
Reid’s departure is not ideal for Indian men’s hockey. But he leaves behind a team that is far more disciplined than other Indian squads over the years. A team which knows how to win. After all, there was that magical afternoon in Tokyo.