Michel van den Heuvel, without tongue in cheek

The successor of Shane McLeod at the head of the Red Lions, assumes a different style. But claims not to be “as hard” as some think …

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There are defeats that we can sometimes allow ourselves to justify by “bad luck”. On the other hand, no victorious epic finds its foundation in chance. Wednesday at the Center of Excellence of the Belgian Hockey Federation, if no more odor of sweat wafted in the sports hall, no fragrance of champagne perfumed more the upper floors of the Antwerp building, which this summer became the HQ of the Red Lions and of the Red Panthers. Forty-eight days after the victorious Olympic final, and a good hour after a new training of the “Olympic-world-champions of Europe”, there was no longer any question of finding in Wilrijk that sweet euphoria which had bathed in Tokyo then in Brussels, at the beginning of August.

The trophies are put away, and the work has started again. This time with the new objective of the “2022” World Cup organized in India from January 13 to 29… 2023. In any case, it is with these dates written in red in his agenda that Michel van den Heuvel orchestrated the work of these next sixteen months. As announced for a good year on the sidelines of the postponement of the Tokyo Games, the 57-year-old Dutch coach has finally taken over from Shane McLeod at the head of the Red Lions, with the Paris 2024 Games as a contractual deadline. ‘we could say,

On Wednesday, Michel van den Heuvel thus gave a slightly more official turn to his assumption of office, and to this succession that some already qualify as haphazard, after these euphoric years following which we would have the right to fear a very understandable “down” … “I obviously do not see it like that, because the organization that we have set up aims precisely to ensure the persistence of this high level for the next ten, twenty or even thirty years”, says the Dutch coach. “This perspective finds its foundation in the current team which is based on three generations that I would describe as ‘John-John’, ‘Thur Van Doren’ and ‘Victor Wegnez’; in the development of teams of young people who join the ranks of the Red Lions as their personal development progresses; and also in the popularity of our sport which, growing as it has done in recent years, is reflected in the constitution of a large reservoir from which we will still draw new nuggets. “

If Shane McLeod was characterized by his rounded speeches mixed with great listening and unlimited empathy, Michel van den Heuvel does not in any way shirk a much more voluntarist attitude and a speech that leaves little room for thought. make way for round legs … “Those who know me poorly only refer to me as a tough person,” says the one who notably coached two great Dutch teams for 16 years (Bloemendaal and Oranje-Zwart), but also the U18s and Dutch U21 for 10 years, as well as the Dutch and Pakistani national teams for twice two years. “I do not necessarily share this opinion, but it is true that if you want to compare me to my predecessor, I would say that I favor direct speech to the whole group, where Shane preferred to have individual conversations with each player. What is certain is that in any case I am not ready to haggle anything. My only goal is to bring together the best performing team. We are here in a Center of Excellence which lives up to its name, and which can only accommodate guys who have put our sport at the center of their lives. “

Words that “vdH” readily illustrates with the examples of Max Plennevaux or Dorian Thiéry, which he takes on the date, while he says he is not surprised by the fact that Thomas Briels is the only “old Lion” to have returned his red tunic, “because if all the others have shown their desire to stay, it is above all through the enthusiasm they continue to have for their sport. Not to mention that their presence remains precious for all of us because they have such a level that they are a phenomenal source of inspiration for the young people who follow them, as well as an additional source of motivation for them, who have understood that they were going to have to fight for one day to take their place ”, he said, while slipping that the current hard core is now launched on the 2023 World Cup, but not necessarily on the 2024 Games…

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