Craig Fulton named new coach of Indian men's Hockey team: What to expect?

Craig Fulton, who has nearly 25 years of coaching experience, replaces Graham Reid as the coach of the Indian men's hockey team. Special Arrangement

Hockey India has named Craig Fulton as the new chief coach of the Indian men's hockey team.

According to Hockey India's statement, Fulton, who succeeds Australia's Graham Reid as chief coach, will take charge of the team after completing formalities.

Speaking about his appointment, Fulton said, "It is an honour to be appointed in the role of chief coach for the Indian men's hockey team. India has a deep history and legacy of the sport and I look forward to working to take this forward with the current team which has some very promising talent."

Who's Craig Fulton?

The 48-year-old South African will be joining the Indian team from the Belgium men's hockey team, where he was the assistant coach since 2018. He was part of the support staff which oversaw the rise of Belgium in men's hockey with the team winning the 2018 World Cup and the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Fulton has plenty of coaching experience in Europe and especially in Belgium. He was named the Belgium Coach of the Year after he guided his club KHC Dragons to the Belgium Hockey League title in the 2020-21 season.

Fulton started his coaching career with the Chelmsford club in England and later shifted to Ireland to coach the Pembroke Wanderers club and led them to the national league twice.

He made his name with the Ireland men's hockey team when he coached them to qualify for the Rio Olympics 2016. This was Ireland's first Olympic qualification in 100 years and the feat also won him the FIH Coach of the Year in 2015. In 2018, he left the Irish team to join Belgium as an assistant to head coach Shane McLeod.

As a player, Fulton has played 195 international matches over 10 years for South Africa. He was part of the South African squad at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and the Athens Olympics in 2004. Fulton's brother Grant also played international hockey for South Africa while his wife Natalie represented the South African women's hockey team.

What can we expect from Fulton?

Sources told ESPN that Hockey India was keen to implement the Belgium template for the men's hockey team and hence both McLeod and Fulton were in contention to become the head coach.

In terms of style, it is expected there won't be a big difference from how the team played under Reid, which mainly focused on playing attacking hockey. What Fulton and Belgium did so well in recent years is how they won the big moments in the big matches. The Belgium team was known for its all-around solidity and ability to deliver under pressure even when they were not playing their best hockey.

Under Reid, India played positive hockey which got them the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. However, they couldn't maintain consistency at the big tournaments and they still struggled to beat top nations like Australia and Belgium.

With Fulton in charge now, India will hope to make the next step, which is to produce positive results consistently and move into the top three of the world rankings.

Upcoming challenges for Fulton

Fulton is expected to take charge after India's upcoming Pro League matches in Rourkela against Australia and Germany. Hockey India had earlier named David John and BJ Kariappa as the interim coaches for these games.

Fulton will have to take care of the team for the rest of the Pro League matches but his main assignment would be the Asian Games in September. The continental multi-sport event is also a qualification event for the Paris Olympics next year. India are the best-ranked team in Asia, so the pressure will be on Fulton to guide the team towards the gold medal and seal the qualification.

Unlike in Belgium, where domestic hockey is known for its high standard, Fulton has his task cut out in terms of finding the right talent in India, where the domestic scene is not the best, and quickly upgrading them to the international level.

There's a need for India to refresh their squad after a disappointing performance at the home World Cup. Whether Fulton will stick with the senior players in the squad or put his faith in youngsters and juniors is the one to watch out for.