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Manpreet Singh: Man of the moment

Harpreet Kaur Lamba | Updated on February 21, 2020 Published on February 20, 2020

Walking tall: Manpreet Singh came to prominence in 2014 when India won the Asian Games gold in Incheon, and a silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games   -  IMAGE COURTESY: HOCKEY INDIA

Manpreet Singh, captain of the national hockey team, is the first Indian to win FIH’s Player of the Year award

Indian hockey captain Manpreet Singh is a man of many facets. It is almost as if the 27-year-old has a split personality. On the one hand, he is a naughty prankster who loves spending time with family and friends and is hooked to Playstation. On the other, he’s a player with nerves of steel who is at ease at any position on the field. .

His transition from a happy-go-lucky village boy to Indian hockey’s main man has been exceptional. Originally from a village in Mithapur, Punjab, Manpreet marked his India début in 2011 and slowly made his way up the rungs. His consistent performances were rewarded last week when he became the first Indian to be named the FIH Player of the Year 2019 (senior men’s category) by the international body.

Manpreet believes the award has come at the right time, with India all set for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. “This award will propel me to do better ahead. If you ask me, what I want the most is an Olympic medal. My hockey career wouldn’t be complete without it,” the midfielder tells BLink.

But it wasn’t all so easy to begin with, as little Manpreet had to “prove” to his mother Manjit that he was meant for hockey. One of the most memorable tales from his childhood is that of his mother locking him up in their village home every afternoon after school. Manpreet, all of nine years then, would insist on playing hockey like his elder brothers but his mother would have none of it.

“I was the youngest and her favourite and she didn’t want to see me with broken bones and bruises,” he says.

He used the terrace route to escape from the house and play matches in the village. “One day, when I got some prize money, my mother finally decided to let me play,” he adds.

In 2010, at the age of 18, Manpreet was summoned to the senior national camp in Delhi. Former India coach Harendra Singh remembers the day the teenager walked in for trials. “I had just joined as national coach and many players were injured at the time. Former defender Jugraj Singh recommended a youngster named Manpreet and we decided to test him,” the former coach recalls. “He did all right in the trials but we knew that with guidance, he could become one of India’s best players.”

Manpreet’s performance matched Harendra’s expectations. Within a year of his national début, he was selected for the Olympics squad. What worked in his favour, according to Harendra, is his ability to play at any position.

“He is the most complete player after Dhanraj Pillay and Sardar Singh. He is strong in defence, is an outstanding midfielder, can score, take penalty corners and penalty strokes,” Harendra says.

Manpreet came to prominence in 2014 when India won the Asian Games gold in Incheon, and a silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The youngster played a pivotal role in the midfield, often bolstering the forward line and shoring up the defence.

“I have a simple belief — I want to be the best version of myself. I am not a perfect player. But I am someone who wants to keep learning and evolving, and I think that is the secret of my success,” Manpreet says.

His career saw a sharp rise from here. In 2016, he showed exemplary courage when his father died while he was participating in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. Manpreet returned home for the funeral but joined his team exactly two days later.

“I had to return and I am thankful to my mother for giving me strength,” he says. Manpreet was also part of the 2016 Champions Trophy (silver medal) and the Rio Olympic Games teams. In 2017, he was made the captain. His biggest test was the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar, where India lost to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.

India coach Graham Reid says, “What I love about him most is that he leads from the front. Manpreet is a class player and can produce his best game under tremendous pressure. As a captain, he provides the kind of leadership that is needed, especially for the youngsters.”

The youngsters in the team also love the skipper’s penchant for playing pranks. Sources in the team say that the captain loves to jumble up their shoes and clothes. He once even gathered the team on the pretext of an emergency meeting, on the morning of All Fool’s Day (April 1). “I have always been like this,” Manpreet says, adding that such pranks and light moments are relaxing. And when he is not planning a prank or strategy for an upcoming match, the captain likes to spend time on his wardrobe or looking for a gadget to buy.

Clearly, he is a man of many sides. And for all seasons.

Harpreet Kaur Lamba is a Delhi-based sports writer

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Published on February 20, 2020
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