Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Russell Garcia has seen it and done it all as a player: three Olympic Games, including the gold medal in Seoul, three World Cups and 307 England and Great Britain caps.

The accolades are endless, but the question now is: can the Englishman repeat his success as coach with Scotland?

The World Cup qualifier in Invercargill, starting on Satur­day, is his baptism as the Scots take on New Zealand, China, Malaysia, Austria and Wales, but only one team will advance to the finals in New Delhi early next year.

Garcia is under no illusions. “There won’t be any easy games, but we’re in good company as New Zealand and China offer us the oppor­tunity to play against top inter­national sides with different styles,” he said. “ The Kiwis play with an aggressive counter-attack while China play at a very high tempo. We’ll be looking to get points from the other sides to boost our world ranking, but that will depend on how the squad strengthens up over the tournament.”

The Scots are No.24 in the international rankings and, of the opposition in Invercargill, only Wales are below them, so the opportunity is there to climb the ladder.

The 39-year-old, originally appointed to coach the junior side, fell into the senior post following the unexpected resig­nation of his fellow Englishman Jon Royce after Scotland’s failure to gain promotion from the recent European Nations Trophy in Wrexham.

“It made sense for me to cover the role as I was already working with the juniors and was familiar with Scottish Hockey’s overall programme,” said Garcia. “It was certainly an unexpected oppor­tunity, but one I couldn’t pass up.”

His original brief was to enhance his club experience in Europe up to national level. He said: “I’ve enjoyed working with the Scotland juniors and we’ve already achieved promotion to the European Indoor Championships in 2011. My overall goal is to continue coaching Olympic-level athletes and eventually to work with Olympic level teams.”

Although Garcia has the senior post on an interim basis only, a good Scottish performance in Invercargill would whet his appetite. “This wasn’t my original intention when I came to Scotland but, having begun work with the senior squad, I think it would be a realistic progression and I would enjoy doing it.”

Garcia is quietly confident in his charges. “The strength of the present side is the mixture of youth and experience. This team has potential and a determined mindset, they want to push themselves, which is important.”

The triple Olympian sees a future beyond the immediacy of the World Cup qualifier. “We’ll play to qualify in New Zealand, but we’re emphasising long-term performance targets looking towards the Commonwealth Games in Delhi [2010] and Glasgow [2014],” he said. “We need more depth in the squad, more guys competing for those 18 places, so the tournament in Invercargill will give younger players good experience.”

The Scots have arguably lost ground on the world stage over the past decade or so and the Englishman believes there needs to be changes to reverse that. “There’s no quick solution, but Scottish Hockey is now focused on long-term planning to establish a consistent approach to developing players and teams to a higher level,” he said.

“We need to raise our standard of play by continually challenging ourselves against top teams, but this involves a lot of travel, which is costly.

“We also need to make our national league more competitive to ensure players are challenged regularly at their clubs, and to develop strong player pathways from grassroots all the way up to international level.”

The Olympian’s panacea starts with a gruelling two-day journey from Scotland to Invercargill, via Dubai, Bangkok, Sydney and Christchurch, and then an opener against the world’s No.13 side, China.