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Interview: Harendra Singh believes Manpreet Singh can lead India back on Olympic podium

By Vishal Sharma

New Delhi, June 15: Former India hockey coach and Dronacharya Awardee Harendra Singh grip on hockey is still as strong as it used to be in during his active playing and coaching days. Considered the 'Man Friday' of Indian hockey, Harendra asserts "nothing is impossible for him".

He never got the opportunity to represent India at the olympics neither as player nor the other way he thought as the coach of senior Men's hockey team, but his heart and soul is with the Indian team and strongly believes that they will definitely regain Olympics podium at Tokyo 2021. He has deep insights towards present Indian hockey team scenario.

He thinks that "there may be players better then you, but there is no excuse for anyone working harder then you do".

Hailing from Chhapra, Bihar, Singh started his career as a halfback playing with IFFCO Tokio in Delhi. He switched to Air India in 1990 and later became the company's senior manager.

Singh made his International debut at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, where Indian team won silver. He represented the Indian hockey team in 43 matches before retiring at the age of 26.

After a few years of coaching in France, he returned to India and worked in various coaching and managerial roles of national senior and junior teams. Singh was appointed head coach of the Indian junior team in 2014, and the team won the 2016 Men's Hockey Junior World Cup.

In mid 2018, Singh was named as the head coach of the Men's National team. He was awarded the Dronacharya Award in 2012 for his contribution to hockey India between year(2000-2010).

While speaking about his journey and Indian Men's hockey team chance in Tokyo Olympics Harendra discussed more in free-wheeling exclusive conversation with Vishal Sharma.

Tell us about your journey as hockey coach so far?

My journey as far as coaching is concern is with full of excitement, learning, and able to achieve what was plan barring few major setback like Sydney Olympic-India-Poland match, whereas we not able to keep the tempo which was set in other match that's leads us to not able to qualify for semis.

So close yet far, same in 2005, junior World cup we were leading 2-0 but lost 4-3 against Australia in semi-final, we had a great run till this match but despite playing a great match we lost, similar not able to win 2018 Asian Games, where India score max goals which is record-breaking in any Major tournament, and off-course losing quarter-final in World Cup in front of home crowd. But sometimes sports become very cruel, we all should know how to deal with it.

I am a kind of person who generally learn from defeat. But if you see coaching Indian team close to 400 matches and winning 14 gold and 11 silver is always something which makes me feel proud being a coach, but all this success I owe to our players, without a good player a coach can't be counted as a successful coach.

It was a great journey I love to be a part of in pressure cooker situation. High light also to be honored with Dronacharya Award and so many state awards which I will treasure whole life.

Due to Covid-19, how are you battling with your daily task and professional life. Are you on duty as being the General Manager of Air India?

Till 30th April I was heading Indira Gandhi International Airport as General Manger-Commercial-Air India. We all Air Indian were assigned to facilitate all Passengers those who are coming from Wuhan, Rome, Frankfurt, London, Narita, Tehran, etc.

I took as a challenge and I used my sports skill to make a good team handle this Pandemic. It was very challenging, but I must share with you the Kind of supports I received from my colleague and management specially my Commercial Director, Ms Meenakshi Malik, was beyond expectation.

Everybody hold their hand and march together to make National Carrier proud. Now I have taken VRS from Air India and planning to start a grassroots hockey development program in the future.

Are you currently involved in any sports ventures like a Consultant/Advisor or Coach? Do you have a lot of such opportunities knocked at your door?

I am planning to, discussion is on final stage, let's wait and watch. Yes I overwhelmed after receiving so many offers from different joint venture to start an academy. I think after launch Khelo-India & Fit India, people and specially private sectors are very much in deep dive to be onboard of this mega project.

Do you have any favourite player from the present Indian hockey team, if so then why? Your opinion?

I believe in team sportsmanship and I have done give much weightage to individual players, any player who is representing India is my favourite player for sure irrespective of his/her game.

Being Dronacharya awardee, how do you look at present scenario of Indian men's field Hockey team?

I think present Indian Men and Women Hockey team is one of best team. If we look in each department which makes any team superior to another like Goalkeepers, defender, Midfielder and striker, all these departments we have world best players.

This team is one of the fittest team in the world. I think the foundation stone laid somewhere in 2010, when Dr. Narinder Dhruv Batra took over Hockey India.

One thing he never compromise is discipline and fitness, and he always ensures this massage is convey to every coaching staff whether you are working in Junior team or senior team. I am very confident that this will for sure stand in podium in 2021 Tokyo Olympic.

Do you think it is an achievement so far for Indian team reaching rank 4th in the world as of 2020 according to FIH?

Yes, its great achievement after 1983 Indian Men's hockey team have been ranked 4th in the world, and its long process which took approximately 10 years and credit goes to all coaches who contributed like Brasa, Terry Walsh, Roelant, Me and now Graham Reid, etc. Its process which we all follow with Vision, Planning of Hockey India and Sports Authority of India under guidance of Dr Batra.

What struggles do you face in your Sporting journey? How do you overcome the situations?

There are so many struggles which I faced during my sporting journey like due to financial crunch, I don't have money to pay DTC bus fare, so I used to cycle 18 KM twice a day from Vikas Puri to National Stadium specially during summer School/College holiday.

Used to train in Talkatora Stadium, cant afford to buy a hockey stick so always on mercy of seniors to provide used hockey stick to start my training, but I made up my mind to represent India in hockey whatever difficulties in the journey I will have at that point of time. My dedication, commitment and passion to wear India Blue colour always shadow all this odd situation.

Is Manpreet Singh a good captain? Do you think his captaincy will lead team India regaining olympics podium?

Manpreet is great leader, and he set an example on the field which is good sign for any captain. He follow his seniors like Sardar Singh, Sreejesh footstep to guide the youngster which is an encouraging for any juniors. He is hungry and never satisfied with whatever he achieve.

I am pretty sure that this Indian Hockey team will regain Tokyo Olympic podium for sure, this team is together almost 4 years, and they understand each other very well. This team has all quality which gives direction towards podium finish.

Do you think Indian men's hockey team target reaching finals in Tokyo 2020 is achievable?

Yes, It's a one game which Semi-final gives India team edge compared to other team very high and its very much achievable, This team will sure win a medal, which color, the players has to decide.

I think winning a medal in Olympic always a dream come true and this team is capable of winning medal in this Olympic. First target should be reaching Semi and then winning medal.


Vishal Sharma is a Delhi based sports journalist. An enthusiast who loves to travel and explore things around. He analysis sports and observe in-depth manner. He is a news and features writer on several online publications. His life is all around sports. Some of his hobbies are blogging, singing, research, travelling and meet geeks. He is a Wikipedian too.

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Story first published: Monday, June 15, 2020, 10:15 [IST]
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