While cricket continues to overshadow almost every other sport in the country, Indian hockey, despite limited limelight, is currently going through a successful phase. The Indian women's hockey team secured the 2020 Tokyo Olympics berth and soon the men's side followed.
Then, women's captain Rani Rampal became the first Indian athlete to bag the prestigious 'World Games Athlete of the Year' award.
Earlier this month, striker Lalremsiami (women's team) and young Vivek Sagar Prasad (men's team) won the FIH's 'Rising Star of the Year' awards. And, now, Indian men's hockey team captain Manpreet Singh has bagged the FIH 'Player of the Year' award.
Capping a memorable 2019 season where he led India to Olympic qualification, Manpreet pipped the likes of Arthur Van Doren (Belgium) and Lucas Villa (Argentina) to be voted the 2019 FIH Player of the Year. The Indian hockey skipper garnered over 35 per cent of the votes as compared to Doren's 19.7 per cent and Vila's 11.7 per cent respectively.
Congratulations to 2019 FIH Player of the year (Men) - @manpreetpawar07
Manpreet Singh (IND) -35.2% of combined votes
Arthur Van Doren (BEL) -19.7% of combined votes
Lucas Vila (ARG) -11.7 % of combined votes
Breakdown: https://t.co/xmsM0jS82C#HockeyStarsAwards pic.twitter.com/Zvq3TiPzcg
In the process, Manpreet became the first Indian to bag the prestigious honour since the FIH awards were introduced in 1999. Ever since making his international debut in 2011, Manpreet has been a vital cog in the Indian hockey set-up. An experienced campaigner, the 27-year-old has 260 international appearances under his belt.
Hailing from Jalandhar's famed Mithapur village, Manpreet, on the back of consistent performances, has continued his hometown's tradition of producing proven hockey stars. The likes of Swaroop Singh, who was part of India's gold-medal-winning team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic, and Pargat Singh, the former Indian hockey captain, also hail from the same village where Manpreet honed his skills.
The 27-year-old was instrumental in India's emphatic victory over South Africa that saw them winning the 2019 FIH Men's Hockey Series Finals in Bhubaneswar. He also played a key role in India's brilliant performance at the Olympic Qualifiers last November that eventually allowed the men's team to secure the qualification for the 2020 Games.
Manpreet Singh kehte hain, India mein rehte hain... jahan jahan jaate hain, jeet ke hi aate hain! ??
'Player of the Year 2019' ko comments mein badhaiyaan dein! ??#IndiaKaGame @sports_odisha @CMO_Odisha @Media_SAI @IndiaSports pic.twitter.com/EoceuJFNEE
"For a player, who learnt hockey at Mithapur hoping to emulate Swaroop Singh and Pargat Singh, to win the FIH Player of the Year award is the biggest reward of my career. My late father and elder brothers wanted to see me in national colours. Had my father been alive today, he would have been the happiest person in this world. Ever since I was hockey trainee at Mithapur stadium, I would follow the FIH awards and to be the first Indian to get this award has made this occasion special for me,â Manpreet told The Indian Express.
"Our biggest goal in 2019 was to book our berth at the Olympics. I am truly honoured to win this award and I would like to dedicate this to my team. I also thank my well-wishers and hockey fans from around the world for voting in my favour. It is truly humbling to see so much support for Indian hockey," he was quoted as saying by TOI.
Congratulations to Manpreet Singh @manpreetpawar07 for becoming âPlayer of the year 2019â also best wishes to team for upcoming matches #IndiaKaGame @TheHockeyIndia #PlayerOfTheYear pic.twitter.com/b3K67ZJR9Oâ Sardar Singh (@imsardarsingh8) February 13, 2020
Thierry Weil, the FIH CEO, congratulated all the winners, including Manpreet for earning the honours. âOn behalf of FIH, I would like to extend heartfelt congratulations from the whole hockey community to all winners of the 2019 FIH Stars Awards and also to all nominees,â he said.
Hockey India President Mohd Mushtaque Ahmad also congratulated Manpreet. "I congratulate Manpreet for winning the prestigious FIH Player of the Year award. He has matured over the years as a player and has proved his importance in the team. He has led India to important victories and I hope he continues to contribute to India's success in the coming years as well," he said.