When it comes to Indian Hockey, the two names that instantly pop up in our head is Dhanraj Pillay and Sardar Singh. Unless you’re a serious fan of sports I even bet you can hardly name two superstars other than Christiano Ronaldo and Mahendra Singh Dhoni who wear the No.7 jersey. But…there is an unrevealed star who also wears the iconic number 7 and leads the team in Blue, although with a stick in his hand. You wouldn’t have seen him endorsing products or in the cover photos of leading tabloids, but his leadership experience makes him the next non-cricketing rising star Indians should definitely know about.
Manpreet Singh Pawar hails from Mithapur near Jalandhar and was born in an agricultural family. Pargat Singh, the former captain of the Indian hockey team was his inspiration to take up hockey as a career. His first accolade which earned him Rs 500 possibly streamlined his journey.
No longer did his family try keeping him away from the game and encouraged him to further train at Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar, one of the best institutes in India for the sport.
He played his debut match for India in 2011 at the age of 19 and his journey from being named Asia’s Junior Player of the Year in 2014 to being named as the commander of Indian men’s national field hockey is astounding.
Manpreet has hockey in his blood, he started playing as forward and developed outstanding agility and speed. Later he found out his ideal position as a halfback and takes up the role as a playmaker to assist and pierce through-balls to the forwards which makes him a one-of-a-kind performer.
The Arjuna awardee has made 242 appearances for India scoring 19 goals in the blue jersey. He was also a part of the Indian team for 2012 as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics. He was passed on the captain’s baton when reigning captain PR Sreejesh sustained injury before the 2017 Asia Cup.
The 27-year-old has already won applause for his world-class performance at big stages. Steering the wheel as a captain he has guided the team to win Bronze in 2018 Asian Games, Gold in 2017 Asia Cup, Silver in 2018 Champions Trophy and the Gold in the Asian Champions Trophy where Pakistan and India were declared joint winners of the competition when rain abandoned the match.
Before being appointed the captain of the senior team, the midfielder captained the junior men’s team in the Hero FIH Hockey Junior Men’s World Cup, and also in the third Sultan Johor Cup in 2013, when the team emerged victorious and brought home the gold. Being named ‘Junior Player of the Year’ by the Asian Hockey Federation in 2014 only underlined his talent and he now looks to bring home an Olympic gold or win a World Cup medal.
Hockey is India’s national game but, unfortunately, it doesn’t make the hockey stars rich and famous because cricket has proved more commercially viable. A lot has changed over the years with the introduction of Hockey India League.
Manpreet was bought by Rachi Rhinos which is now called the Ranchi Rays and is headed by former German captain Moritz Fürste who Manpreet idolizes and has learnt a lot sharing the dressing room. He is a huge fan of CR7 and is called the Cristiano Ronaldo of Hockey. He also looks up to former Indian captain Sardar Singh for his style of play.
Manpreet Singh and the boys in blue put up a stupendous performance in the recently concluded FIH Series Finals in Bhubneshwar. The skipper personally had an impressive year and would look to carry forward the momentum ahead of the final qualifying round of the 2020 Olympics that is to be held in November this year. The young Indian squad led by a talented 27-year captain showed they were capable of both attacking and defensive play under the new chief coach Graham Reid. Indians wouldn’t recognise someone unless they have done something dramatic and Manpreet aims to change the outlook of how hockey is seen in India by winning an Olympic medal that was previously won in the year 1980.