Reports are emerging from the South American hockey heartland, Argentina, that all is not well with the national teams. Accusations of lies, betrayal and
disrespect have been bandied around by some of the men’s team’s most influential players, and the hockey world looks on in amazement as one of the
most successful hockey nations in recent times appears to be teetering on the brink of chaos.
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Here is the story so far…
Last month enigmatic head coach for Los Leones, the Argentina men’s team, Carlos Retegui announced he would be stepping down from his role
after five years in the job. In that five years, Retegui has led the men’s team to Olympic gold and, in 2014, he performed the unprecedented
act of coaching both the men and the women at the same World Cup, leading both to bronze medals. He has also led the men to 11th in the
world rankings to the number one spot – although they have slipped to number two in recent months.
However, in a statement at the end of February, Retegui said he was “taking a break to analyse new challenges.” It was thought he would
be taking his considerable coaching ability to that other sport adored by Argentinians, football. Since that announcement, it appears
that Retegui made a complete U-turn and requested to the CAH, the Argentina Hockey Federation, that not only did he want to continue
in a head coach capacity but he wanted to run both the men’s and women’s teams. It is believed that the CAH initially turned down this
request but just a few days ago, the appointment of Retegui as National Coaching Director was confirmed. Retegui had got his wish and
would be leading both the men’s and women’s teams in World Cup year, a repeat of his feat of 2014. At time of writing, both teams would
be among the favourites to win medals, as the men are ranked second in the world and the women ranked third.
That however is far from the end of the story.
Two of the most influential members of Los Leones have been vocal in their criticism of the decision. Top goal scorer Gonzalo
Peillat and Augustin Mazzilli, via a statement that was later released on Twitter, said of the CAH: “They betrayed us,
they lied to us in the face, they disrespected us and left us exposed to an unmanageable situation”. In the statement,
which pulled no punches, Peillat and Mazzilli spoke of the national association’s bad handling and bad decision-making
under the leadership of president Miguel Grasso. The two players said that on 16 February Carlos Retegui had spoken to
his players and explained that he was going to step down as coach, citing a “lack of energy” on his part. He spoke of having
lost the energy and enthusiasm for the daily regime of training sessions, tours and tournaments. All the players understood
this decision and accepted it unanimously.
Three days later the Confederation began a search for Retegui’s successor. An interim coach went with the team to the
recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia and the players thought the process to find a new coach was underway.
President Miguel Grasso was part of the Argentina delegation in Malaysia and Mazzilli claims there were frequent
reassurances from the President that Retegui would not return as head coach or national coach. To the player’s
consternation, on 23 March, through social media, they discovered that Retegui had been re-hired, not as coach
of the men’s team but as head coach of all national teams. The statement says this is a position that would require
double the time and energy.
This decision has caused both Mazzilli and Peillat to step aside from the national team. It is likely others
will follow. With the women’s World cup just three months away, the Hockey Champions Trophy (men) in June
and the Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup at the end of the year, the Argentina Hockey Association will be
looking to get its house in order swiftly. Peillat, who is invariably Argentina’s leading goal scorer at
major events, the door is not shut on a return to international hockey. His most recent tweet speaks of
taking time away from the international team and returning wth more energy than ever.
At time of reporting, there was no reaction from the women’s team.