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England Hockey go for THREE men’s captains as Barry Middleton steps down ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Stalwart skipper Middleton steps aside but remains a “prevalent” leader, as England and GB Hockey opt for trio ahead of Tokyo 2020

BY ROD GILMOUR

In what England Hockey billed as a “landmark captaincy structure” on Wednesday, Barry Middleton has decided to step down as the men side’s long-serving captain, a three-man leadership role taking over from a player the team felt was clearly too hard to replace with a single armband.

George Pinner, Ian Sloan and Phil Roper – goalkeeper, midfielder and forward respectively – have been named as the trio who will lead the side for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in London and beyond.

Meanwhile the 33-year-old Middleton, who is approaching an incredible 400 international caps, will focus on playing duties ahead of a fifth Olympic campaign after holding the captaincy role since 2009, the year he lifted the EuroHockey Championship trophy at the helm of the England side.

Head coach Bobby Crutchley said: “We have named a captaincy group that represents the shared responsibility, accountability and ownership of the full squad.

“These three players were voted in as a result of their different qualities and have the full backing of the squad, the staff and myself. Irrespective of the captaincy group, we share common goals and accountability, and everyone will play their part.”

Crutchley added that he was “fortunate” to have Middleton within the GB set up “as one of the best players in the world, and I know his leadership qualities will be as prevalent as ever.”

There are few further, smaller details which have yet to be released, such as who will see a (c) by their name on the team sheet (or will it be all three?), and who will lead out the team for each game (or will it be an arrow formation?).

Yet the decision is a clear departure from their Rio Olympics campaign, when Team GB finished a lowly ninth in Brazil.

In a media release on Wednesday, England Hockey stated that the decision to opt for a three-pronged captaincy was reflected in a “strong desire across the players and staff to have greater levels of player accountability, responsibility and shared ownership.”

The news will also fuel the debate as to whether Danny Kerry will announce the same scenario for the women’s captaincy, with the team still leaderless since the retirement of Kate Richardson-Walsh, who was captain for 12 years.

But the leadership group, which was formed by Craig Keegan in the run-up to the Rio Olympics, seems to be the obvious route with which the women’s team will operate. A captain is expected to be announced shortly, with the Investec Test matches looming in June.

Ed Barney, England Hockey’s performance director, added of the men’s decision: “We are constantly looking to evolve, and with more than 30 players in our central programme, we believe there is huge value in thinking creatively about how we maximise the strengths that lie within the squad.

“The concept of a single figurehead who takes responsibility for everything is hugely dated in this day and age – this revised model will allow us to maximise and leverage the shared strengths across the squad.

“This structure will see us through the rest of our major events in 2017 and we will look to keep evolving it beyond then. It underpins what we are trying to achieve as a squad, and the culture we are looking to engender.

“So far in 2017 England have performed well in South Africa, and Great Britain were successful in Malaysia, so there are positive signs and we now look to build upon those.”

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