Eight months after Harendra Singh was appointed national coach of the men's hockey team, Hockey India's High Performance and Development Committee has "recommended to reassign" him as junior team coach. The federation's 'hire-and-fire' modus operandi, which has generated controversy in recent years, has Harendra becoming the latest fall guy. He's the sixth coach in as many years to be shown the door.
Following their meeting on January 7, the Hockey India (HI) committee made Harendra an "offer" to take over the junior team reins starting with the national camp in March. It is understood that current junior coach Jude Felix, whose term runs until May this year, wasn't even intimated of his position being offered to someone else.
It's a familiar, jaded script which evokes little surprise - Major tournament. Medal-less finish. Coach's head rolls.
This decision predictably comes after India's quarterfinal exit after a 1-2 defeat against three-time champions Netherlands at the World Cup in Bhubaneswar in December last year. The last time India had climbed on to the podium was 43 years ago. After the loss, Harendra ran into some trouble for slamming umpires, for which he was later reprimanded by the world body.
HI in its release cites that it's been a "very disappointing" year for the men's team with results "not going as expected" and mid-sentence shifts focus to the junior team and the onus on "long-term results".
It screams irony, given HI's chop-and-change approach and this decision comes just eight months into Harendra's two-year contract.
In 2018, India beat every top 10 nation, barring Australia and Netherlands, at least once. Under Harendra, they finished with a silver after losing to Australia on penalties at the Champions Trophy, a gold medal at the Asian Champions Trophy and a bronze at the Asian Games. The latter performance is believed to have not gone down well with the federation.
In fact, how Harendra was brought into the men's team set-up itself bordered on the bizarre. In May last year, Harendra, who was then coaching the women, was asked to swap positions with Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, who had been shuttled to the men's team from his initial stint with the women.
Harendra, who led the junior men's team to the World Cup title in 2016, was brought in after India's fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games under Marijne as the "Indian fix" to everything that appeared to be wrong. That he enjoyed the overriding confidence and trust of the players and had groomed and overseen their transition from junior to senior flock was considered a bonus.
HI communicated its offer of junior coach role to Harendra via an email on January 7 following their meeting. Harendra, however, is believed to be unhappy at his sudden removal and being shunted to a lower profile. His position will now be advertised for and thrown open for applications before the side regroups for training in February.
The men's team play their first major tournament, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, in March. In the interim, high-performance director David John and analytical coach Chris Ciriello will oversee operations.
With the Olympics less than two years away, HI could have opted for a break from its tradition of sacking coaches as the first response and leaving answers for later. Under the weight of such reckless misfires, Indian hockey slips further into an abyss.