CHENNAI: “I didn’t really expect this award. Even when I was walking into the stadium today (Thursday), I didn’t know I was going to get it. Speechless...” That’s how Manpreet Singh summed up his big moment to this daily after becoming the first Indian to win the coveted the FIH Player of the Year (Men) award since its inception in 1999.
“To become the first Indian to win this in 21 years... it’s special. It makes me very happy when I am recognised this way.” To be fair to the Indian skipper, he has been one of the country’s brightest sparks on the field for years.
He may lack the ability to inspire those around him in crunch moments but, purely on a technical level, he has been India’s best for several years. He showed that quality recently in the two Pro League encounters against the Netherlands last month.
He led the team by example and had one of his best games in an Indian shirt. Speaking of that match and life under Graham Reid, the 27-year-old opined that there is a greater emphasis on attacking and scoring goals early in matches.
“He has instilled that belief system in us,” Singh said. “He has told us about how we have a very good attacking system and how we will get chances even if we play normal hockey. Capitalise on your chances and try to score early, so we are just trying to follow that.” This new onus on scoring goals early is perhaps one reason why India seem to be beginning quickly now than over the last few years.
In the four matches that the World No 4 has played so far in 2020, they have scored two goals within the first 120 seconds. Even if the sample size is a bit too less at the moment, one needs to keep one eye on this trend. Speaking of the Olympics, Singh said he was up for the challenge.
“We are all working towards that and awards like this will only motivate me further to represent my country.” While the likes of Arthur van Doren — who finished second in the voting process — helped Belgium win the Euros for the first time, the midfielder was at his consistent best to help India qualify for the Olympics last year.