Analytical coach Chris Ciriello latest Indian hockey team staff to exit
Chris Ciriello had only recently signed a one-year contract extension after the Tokyo Olympics was postponed.Updated: Sep 23, 2020, 07:51 IST
The Indian men’s hockey team suffered a fresh blow with its versatile Australian analytical coach Chris Ciriello resigning due to a medical condition. The 34-year-old former World Cup-winner reportedly contracted a virus before leaving for home on a break in June that aggravated his existing skin condition, Psoriasis.
“Earlier there were only a few spots. Now I have to go for UV light treatment thrice a week. If I went back to India I will have to get out of the sports complex,” the 2014 World Cup winner said from Perth on Tuesday.
The Indian hockey squad is based at Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) Bengaluru campus. The players and staff have been instructed not to leave the campus due to the pandemic. “I was told there was a time I have to be back by. My condition is getting better. Doctors said it could take six to eight weeks to recover, but weren’t sure. They (the team) need someone there now and I can’t be there.”
Hockey India (HI) did not respond to requests for comment.
Ciriello had only recently signed a one-year contract extension after the Tokyo Olympics was postponed. A drag-flick specialist, he scored a hat-trick in Australia’s 6-1 win over Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup final. On landing in Australia, he had to spend four weeks in quarantine, two weeks in a Sydney hotel and a fortnight at home in Perth.
“I was going to come back. But I also didn’t want to put any of the guys at risk because of which someone has to miss tournaments, even the Olympics. I remember a virus affected my heart rate during the Rio Olympics. I can’t be a reason for any of those issues,” said Ciriello, who joined the India team in March 2018. “It was a joint decision. I informed Hockey India on Friday and spoke to the players and explained my situation before putting in my papers on Monday.”
Support staff exodus
Ciriello is the third support staff member to quit in a month, after his compatriots, high performance director David John and physio David MacDonald. It extends a tradition of HI prematurely parting ways with support staff.
The last four years or so have seen four chief coaches.
Dutchman Roelant Oltmans left after India’s second round exit at the 2016 Rio Olympics, replaced by compatriot Sjoerd Marijne in September 2017. In a bizarre move after both teams failed to win a medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April 2018, the roles of Marijne and women’s coach Harendra Singh were swapped. It came barely six months before the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar. Harendra was axed in January 2019 following the quarter-final exit at the World Cup and was replaced by current chief coach Graham Reid three months later.
In an earlier interview to HT, 2004 Australia Olympic gold medallist Mark Knowles had said his country’s hockey authorities always gave four-year contracts to the coaching staff. “I don’t know any Australia coach in any four-year Olympic cycle who didn’t see out their four years (unless) if they didn’t want to. Anything less makes it very difficult because it takes a while for players to adapt to totally new feelings, structures, tactics,” said Knowles, who also won the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
India’s next tournament is the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka next March. Could the authorities have waited for the former drag-flicker? Ciriello also performed the roles of manager, was Reid’s assistant and penalty corner specialist guiding Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas, among others.
“Ciriello understands the craft (drag-flick) and can give confidence as well as technical help. He has much to contribute (as analytical coach),” Aussie hockey legend Ric Charlesworth told this paper last year.
India had notched up strong results in the FIH Pro League in January and February, beating the top three ranked teams - world champions Belgium, Australia and Netherlands - at least once.
Ciriello said the departure of support staff is not ideal in the build up to the Tokyo Olympics. “Yeah, the timing is difficult. It is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make. But they (HI) have enough time to find someone else. I am not leaving on bad terms and the option is always open to return.”