Indian captain Manpreet Singh has been named the Best Player of 2019 by FIH (The International Hockey Federation). It was the first time that the honour had gone to an Indian player since the awards were launched in 1999. The midfielder pipped Arthur van Doren of Belgium, who finished second, and the Argentine, Lucas Vila, who finished third, to the award. It was Singh though who emerged as the clear winner, with 35% of all the combined votes cast in his favour.
The 27-year-old from Jalandhar in Punjab first played for India at the age of 19, and has represented India at the Olympic Games in London and Rio. And, last year, he ensured that they qualified for the Tokyo Games in some style, captaining the side as they beat Russia in the final qualifiers over two legs – 4 – 2 and 7 – 2.
Singh has won 242 caps for India to date and scored 19 goals for his country. His trophy cabinet is already full of medals having won gold and bronze at the Asian Games, Silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and also at the Champions Trophy in 2016 in London, and two years again in Breda in the Netherlands.
Now, apart from having another Olympics to look forward to, Singh is leading India in the FIH Hockey pro-League. Launched last year, the League replaced the FIH Hockey World League and serves also as a qualifier for the World Cup and the Olympics. It features all the top hockey-playing countries in the world, which India joined for the first time this year.
He is not the only Indian hockey player to be recognised in recent weeks. Last month, his female counterpart, Rani Rampal, captain of the Indian women’s team, became the first hockey player ever to win the World Games Athlete of the Year award.
That was bestowed on Rampal after she skippered her side to success in the FIH Series Finals in 2019, where she was named Player of the Tournament. And, like Singh, under her leadership, the team also qualified for the Olympics in Tokyo – only the third time that Indian women will be represented in the Games themselves.
Now it is hoped that with both Singh and Rampal as role models, more young Indians will want to take up hockey, which is still regarded as the national sport of India, although it has waned in popularity since the golden era when the men’s team used to dominate the Olympics.