Days after India made a gallant exit from the World Cup, beaten 2-1 in a well-contested quarter-final by The Netherlands, the country’s hockey coach was facing the choice of quitting himself or being sacked from his position by the national federation.
The search for a “quality foreign coach” to replace Harendra Singh is in the initial stages. Preliminary inquiries were underway even as the top bosses of Hockey India, the national federation, were busy with the title encounter of the showpiece event.
On Saturday, not only was Harendra the target of criticism from the International Hockey Federation's Chief Executive but also had to meet the Umpires' Manager to explain his criticism of the umpires during the India-Netherlands encounter. Indian hockey sources said Harendra had not volunteered to go and meet the umpires, but had been summoned by the FIH Technical Delegate for a 'disciplinary hearing’.
As reported by The Hockey Insider ahead of India's first outing, Harendra's head was on the chopping block even before the biggest hockey event in the country's history got underway. The only chance for him to survive was if India produced an extraordinary show.
The story goes back to the failure of the team under Harendra to defend the Asian Games title at Jakarta and thereby not qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games. Hockey India is still rankled by that reverse.
With the direct qualification chance lost, India face a tough task ahead to book the flight for Tokyo 2020.
A World Cup at home prevented large-scale changes after the Asian Games, but several players were shown the exit door. It was the worst-kept secret of Indian hockey that the national coach was living on borrowed time. Only the prospects of a public backlash from fans, if the coach was changed on the eve of the World Cup, allowed Harendra to stay on.
The axe has been taken out of its velvet case and is being ground. The wait was only for the World Cup final to get over and the guests to leave the country.
Within the corridors of power in Indian hockey, discussions are rife about Harendra's limitations as a coach and even the loss to the Netherlands is being scrutinised in this context.
The discussion for Harendra's replacement will soon accelerate. Applications will be sought from across the world and the choice made soonest as the Olympic qualifiers will come up in six months.
Harendra had been in the hot seat earlier, in fact more than once. He lost the job as assistant coach after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and also in 2010 Asian Games when India lost in the semi-finals. This time, he survived after the dismal show in the Asian Games, but the dice was loaded against him even before the World Cup began.
The feeling within Hockey India is that Harendra’s outburst against the umpires was an embarrassment to the country hosting the World Cup. Harendra's criticism of double standards in flashing cards got an official retort on Saturday when the FIH Technical Delegate "officials reprimanded" him for "unacceptable" statements against the umpires.
The Indian coach was found to have violated the Code of Conduct and the "official reprimand" would be recorded by the FIH. “It will be taken into account if Harendra Singh breaches the Code of Conduct again at a future event,” the FIH said in a statement.
The FIH President, Narinder Batra, who also heads the Indian Olympic Association, also said he would speak on the matter in detail after the World Cup.
"Be graceful whether you win or lose. Finding faults is very easy and I’ve got a very strong view on this sort of behaviour," said Batra, who headed Hockey India until his election as the first non-European FIH President in 2017.
"I will express my views after getting back to Delhi. Umpires will get criticised by anybody who loses," said Batra, indicating a hard line against Harendra.
Harendra may have brought in effective communication with the players — since he speaks in a language understood by most players — but it failed when things came to the crunch.
Now that his contract is running out at the end of the World Cup, even a formal sack order may not be considered necessary by Hockey India.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Dec 17, 2018 08:09:13 IST