It has been a tumultuous week for Indian hockey as three stalwarts- Rupinder pal Singh, Birendra Lakra and SV Sunil announced their retirement from the sport. Indian men’s hockey captain Manpreet Singh had a mixed bag feeling after hearing about the retirements. Out of the three, he was most connected with Rupinder and called him ‘big brother’, so it will be tough for Manpreet to not have his guardian angel around from here on.
A start drag-flicker and a great defender, Rupinder has had a tremendous impact on Indian hockey. A two time Olympian who had a decade long career in hockey has left several footprints in the folklore of Indian hockey.
Manpreet who understood Rupinder’s role in this Bronze medal-winning team spoke after his retirement. He said, “We were together in Chandigarh, and he told me everything. I was also happy [knowing] that he is playing for so long and has left at such good momentum. But obviously as a friend and a little brother I was also sad that my big brother has retired from hockey.”
Rupinder made his debut back in 2010 and has seen Indian hockey transform in years. He has a vital cog in Graham Reid’s Bronze medal-winning side at the Tokyo Olympics as the Men in Blue created history by breaking a 41-year jinx at the Summer Games. Rupinder finished the Tokyo Olympics with four goals and was the second highest goalscorer for India.
“But somewhere inside I was delighted that after winning an Olympic medal, he decided to retire because it’s everyone’s dream to win a medal in the Olympics. And he achieved that dream and after that, he decided to retire,” the skipper revealed.
Shifting his focus, Manpreet highlighted how the Indian team needs to get back on their toes and should remain focused on winning gold at the Asian Games in 2022. A win at the showpiece event will help them in direct qualification to the Paris Olympics in 2024.
“Firstly we will aim to qualify for Paris 2024 in Asian Games 2022. If we do so then we will have time to prepare ourselves for the next Olympics. We are already practising for our camp which is starting next week.”
“We are focusing that when we return to camp, our fitness level remains good with all the sweets that we have eaten [post-Tokyo 2020 bronze],” Manpreet highlighted.
It will be interesting to see how young players step and fill that big hole in the defence. It will be a big challenge for any player to replace experienced leaders like Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra at the back.