He almost priced himself out of the reckoning but his superb credentials and a slice of Dutch influence finally helped Terry Walsh clinch the hot job as India's chief hockey coach. The double Olympian will now shape the destiny of Sardar Singh & Company as India attempt to regain their lost pride in international hockey. Having worked with the Netherlands national team in 2004, Walsh won Dutchman and Hockey India's High Performance manager Roelant Oltmans' vote before he was appointed by the sports ministry.
India's reputation as a hockey power took a massive beating when the former Olympic champions finished last in the 2012 London Games. Under Aussie coach Michael Nobbs and skipper Bharat Chetri, India went from bad to worse as the team was crippled by poor form and reports of players feigning injury just before match days.
Nobbs resigned in July on health grounds, but he was already getting upset with a system that often picked national players at random and without a scientific basis. Walsh, of course, will have a set of talented junior players to work with. Several of them products of the Hockey India League, Walsh will have a clutch of young men who recently won the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia.
"The opportunity to head the Indian coaching team is extremely humbling. Coaching India must be regarded as the greatest challenge in the hockey world. The world's richest history in our sport combined with the great passion of Indian hockey sets an incredible platform for excitement, but also expectations in this country," said Walsh after he was appointed. Any like all new appointees, added: "I look forward to working with the players, the coaching staff, Hockey India and the Sports Authority of India in ensuring no stone is left unturned with India's quest to return to the performance pinnacle of world hockey.
Speaking exclusively to Sports.NDTV.com, Nobbs said: "Walsh definitely had the best credentials among all those who applied. He should do good work considering the fact that India's developmental team (under-21) is doing very well. In this team lies the core of the squad that should play in the Rio Olympics. Terry and Roelant should combine well. Good luck to them."
Walsh will have to prove that he is money's worth. Compared to Nobbs, Walsh is approximately 1200 Australian Dollars more expensive per month.
The 59-year-old will reportedly get a salary of Rs 7.2 lakh per month from the Indian government. Free tickets to Australia and other perks and luxuries will be the add-ons. But money can't guarantee good performance. In recent times, Walsh has not been fruitful as a coach. He had an unsuccessful stint with the US national team and after Nobbs left, he was one of the top contenders for the India job.
Walsh's association with Dutch hockey surely gave him an advantage. "Oltmans is happy working with people who are well versed with the Dutch system of hockey. It's quite a rigid system but Walsh will know how to handle this," said a Hockey India insider. Walsh, sources said, demanded a monthly fee of close to a crore of Rupees but the ministry had a lesser budget. "The fact that they are paying him more than Nobbs means the ministry has already stretched its budget," said a source.
In terms of credentials, Walsh looks solid. As head coach of the Netherlands men's team, Walsh guided the Dutch to a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Classified as a Master Coach by the international hockey federation (FIH), Walsh previously served as head coach for the Australian men's team from 1997-2000. Walsh led Australia to a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. From 2001-03, Walsh served as an elite coaching consultant and software development manager for Sydney-based SportsTec, a leading provider of sports training technology. He also served as a consultant to the US women's team and former national team coach Pam Hixon at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Walsh was first selected to play for Western Australia in 1974 and such was the quality of his debut that he was immediately chosen in the national team for the World Cup in Malaysia in 1975. India won the world championship that year under Ajitpal Singh's captaincy. Walsh went on to play 175 internationals before retiring after Australia's World Cup victory in London in 1986 where he scored one of Australia's two goals in the final against Germany.
With enough time to get a 'feel' of the Indian system and more importantly, win the confidence of the young players who come from different backgrounds, Walsh's biggest tests lie in 2014. The season starts with the World League Round 4 at Delhi and terminates with Champions Trophy in India. In between, India will play the FIH men's World Cup in The Hague, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Asian Games in Incheon, Korea. Terry Walsh will certainly have his plate full.