Amidst interest from India, Graham Reid was relieved as the chief coach of Amsterdam Hockey Club with immediate effect on Thursday. The Australian, who is also the assistant coach of the Netherlands national team, is likely to resign from that position as well.
The announcement comes at a time when Hockey India is in the final stages of appointing the new coach for the men's national team. The Indian Express understands that during the National Championship in Gwalior last month, high-performance director David John had informed a few senior players that Reid, 54, was the frontrunner to succeed Harendra Singh, who was sacked as the chief coach in January.
Reid's compatriot Warren Birmingham, too, has been linked to the job. Birmingham is one of Australia's greats, having represented the Kookaburras for more than a decade. He was a member of the team that won the 1992 Barcelona Olympics silver medal. Another Australian, Brent Livermore, too has applied for the role although his chances are considered to be slim. India have been without a coach since January. Hockey India sacked Harendra citing the team's inability to defend Asian Games gold medal in Jakarta, which was followed by an average World Cup outing. He was the second coach to be sacked within a year following the team's dismal run in 2018.
On Saturday, a coach-less India will begin their campaign in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, against Asian Games gold medalist. In absence of a chief coach, the team will be co-coached by John and analytical coach Chris Ciriello.
The search for Harendra's successor hasn't been easy. With most top coaches already occupied in a crucial year where teams will compete to book berths for next year's Tokyo Olympics, Hockey India sources said Reid is seen as the best choice from the few options left. A two-time Olympian who has made 130 appearances for the Kookaburras, Reid did his coaching apprenticeship under legendary Australian Ric Charlesworth. He was Charlesworth assistant in the Australian set-up for five years before taking over as the chief coach in 2014. Reid was Australia's coach at the Rio Olympics but stepped down after the team could not manage a podium finish. He then took up the dual responsibility in Netherlands. His position at the Amsterdam Hockey Club, however, came under scrutiny after the team lost to HGC 8-2 in a league match last weekend. Amsterdam said the disappointing result coupled with interest from 'outside Amsterdam' were the reasons they parted ways with Reid.
"The current disappointing results emphasize the need for change. In addition, Reid has indicated that he may have a new challenge in the short term outside of Amsterdam," the club said in a statement on its website.
Reid could not be reached for comments while Hockey India chose not to comment. Not just the coach, India will head into their first tournament of the year without their main forward, the best drag-flicker and one of the key midfielders.
Seven players who played in the National Championships last month have been ruled out of the tournament owing to the injuries they picked up while playing for their respective units. Harmanpreet Singh, SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Lalit Upadhyay, Rupinderpal Singh and Akashdeep Singh have all been ruled out.
Despite the absence of their key performers, captain Manpreet Singh exuded confidence and was hopeful that the youngsters would step up. "Japan, Korea and hosts Malaysia will be the teams to watch out for. They are traveling with full squads and they will pose a stiff challenge for us," skipper Manpreet Singh said on the eve of their opening match.
"The youngsters will need to step up their game and I believe having fresh faces can be an advantage as the possibility of the opponents knowing much about the new comers is less."
The crisis deepened as forward Gurjant Singh returned home from Malaysia after fracturing his nose during a practice match this week. He has been replaced by Gursahibjit Singh, who led Railways to the Nationals title in February.
Gursahibjit is not the only youngster included in the squad. The absence of experienced players means India fielded a relatively fresh-looking side for the tournament, with Vivek Sagar Prasad returning to the team along with Shilanand Lakra. Manpreet Singh, who was carrying some niggles himself, will lead the team and will have Surender Kumar as his deputy.