The pandemic has taught India men’s hockey captain Manpreet Singh to be a stoic. Of course, the year also gave Manpreet reason to smile. He tied the knot with long-time girlfriend Illi Najwa Saddique in December.
To sum up the year that was and looking ahead to the Olympics and more, it’s over to Manpreet.
The Telegraph: It’s been a tough 2020 for everybody. How did you keep yourself motivated, mentally?
Manpreet: It has been a challenging period for sports across the globe. But we are very fortunate to have the support of Hockey India and SAI, who ensured the entire team is housed on one campus (in Bangalore). We had all the assistance needed to stay fit and, more importantly, there was — and still is — much focus on mental health.
How difficult has it been to train in a bio-secure environment?
I think the only thing that has changed is we are not allowed to leave the campus on weekends. We play cricket on off days or a round of snooker or learn a new sport. SAI also sometimes organises a movie night.
(After a three-week break, the Indian men’s core probable group returned to the national camp at SAI, Bangalore, on January 5. They trained from August to December 12 last year.)
As captain, how did you keep your teammates motivated?
It was important to keep the younger players in good spirits. I chat with them on a regular basis, I check on how their families are doing, tell them that in case they require anything, they can ask without hesitation. The best way to bond is over PlayStation. That is when we get together, lighten the mood and have a good time.
While the women players are back in competition, playing in Argentina, the men faced a setback with South Africa cancelling the Summer Series. Is lack of competition hampering your Olympic preparation?
While exposure ahead of the Olympics is important, we understand there are several challenges with many travel restrictions, quarantine requirements etc. We know the Federation is in touch with several top hockey-playing nations to work out a tour.
In the meantime, we are focused on our fitness and improving our game in all aspects.
We create small match scenarios among ourselves to see the level of play. I believe under the current situation, we are doing everything we can to be best prepared.
(The next scheduled tournament for the men is the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka from March 11. Also, the away leg of the Pro League campaign is scheduled against Argentina in April.)
At only 28 years of age, this will be your third Olympics. How do you rate India’s chances in okyo?
I think it’s too early to comment about our chances, but our goal certainly is to finish on the podium.
India men’s hockey team finished the decade at their highest-ever ranking of fourth. What helped you reach here?
Regular international competition, round-the-year camps and the federation’s emphasis on strengthening the core group of players helped us reach the No. 4 spot. A systematic and scientific approach in our training and competitions over the last decade has helped us.
The team has been with coach Graham Reid for a while now…
He is a brilliant guy with decades of coaching experience. He has inculcated that ‘team comes first’ attitude among all players.
Is the Cristiano Ronaldo fan getting time to watch his idol?
Absolutely. He is my idol and I loved watching him lead Juventus to Supercoppa Italiana glory recently. Watching him play motivates me.
One last question: On a personal level, year 2020 has finished on a happy note for you. You got married. How does this new innings in your life feel?
Yes, I got married to Illi in December last year. I have known her for over eight years now and she has been a constant support for me.