Indian paddlers' long wait for a foreign coach has finally come to an end with the Table Tennis Federation of India appointing Poland's Leszek Kucharski for the job on a one-year contract.
The appointment comes just in time as the paddlers gear up for next year's London Olympics' qualifiers.
TTFI Secretary General Dhanraj Choudhary said Kucharski will take over the reins of the team from next month at a salary of $6,000 per month including free accommodation and internal travel expenses.
"Kucharski was our first choice. He has a good record as a player and coach and his name had also been recommended by the International Table Tennis Federation. In our October 5 meeting at SAI headquarters here, we decided on the name of Leszek Kucharski," Choudhary said.
"Kucharski had reached No 11 in rankings as a player and has had a successful career as coach in his country. One issue that was delaying his appointment as coach of the Indian team was salary structure. He was asking for $6,000 and as per SAI and Sports Ministry's limit, a coach could be offered a maximum of $5,000.
"In the October 5 meeting, the committee under the chairmanship of SAI DG Desh Deepak Verma, decided to recommend his name to the Sports Ministry with $6,000 as his salary.
His appointment is more or less confirmed in principle and I'm confident that the Ministry will give its approval in a day or two.
"The ministry will send its approval to the SAI and then the visa invitation will be extended to Kucharski. All the formalities will be completed within this month and he is most likely to join the team next month," said Choudhary.
Choudhary said three names had been finalised by the TTFI for the coaching job and forwarded to the Sports Authority of India for approval.
Those in the running were Kucharski, Michael Hajek of the Czech Republic and 1988 Seoul Olympics bronze medallist Erik Lindh of Sweden.
"Kucharski's tenure is till August 2012 and if the TTFI finds his work satisfactory and he is willing to stay back, then his contract will be extended by another year. The coach will be based in SAI's Patiala complex. Till now, Bhawani Mukherjee and Kamlesh Mehta were looking after the team," said the secretary general.
The 53-year-old Pole finished his international career in the beginning of 1990s and served the Polish Table Tennis Federation (PTTA) in various capacities from 1994 to 2009, including as head coach of the men's and women's national teams.
Interestingly, Kucharski's mother was three-time Polish champion in a single game.
Ever since Italian Massimo Constantini's contract expired after the Guangzhou Asian Games last year, the TTFI had been unable to find a replacement. Swedish coach Anders Johansson, who was supposed to take up the post in July, also backed out citing family reasons.
"In December last year, after Constantini's two-year stint ended, we contacted the ITTF and they suggested the name of Johansson. The Sports Ministry had also cleared his name and sent the visa invitation but unfortunately he backed out at the last moment citing family reasons. Again we tried to have him on board but to no avail," informed Choudhary.
Choudhary said the two major competitions ahead are Asian Championships in February in Macau, China and then the Olympic qualifiers in April in Hong Kong.
"These two events are very important for India and after the arrival of Kucharski, we will still be left with three months to prepare for the championships. His experience as a player and the coach will definitely help the Indian table tennis," said the TTFI official.