Paris is my fourth and probably last Olympics: Manpreet

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Bengaluru, Jul 11 (PTI) He has no plans to retire anytime soon but former Indian men's hockey team captain Manpreet Singh very well knows that the Paris Games will be his fourth and last Olympics, and wants to give his best one last time at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza.

Manpreet, 32, was the captain of the Indian team that broke a 41-year-old Olympic medal drought in Tokyo by bagging the bronze.

Besides, he has been a member of the team that won 2014 and 2022 Asian Games gold medals.

"I never thought that I would be able to play four Olympics. It is every player's dream to play in the Olympics and win medals. I consider myself very lucky that this is my fourth Olympics," Manpreet told PTI Bhasha. "I am going to Paris thinking as if it is my last Olympics and I have to give my best. I haven't thought about quitting the game yet and my complete focus is on the Paris Games," the experienced midfielder, who made his debut for India in 2011 at the age of just 19, said.

But the journey from Mithapur village in Jalandhar to Paris has not been a smooth sailing for Manpreet. He had to fight poverty, false allegations and witness mother's struggles to make a mark in his career.

After the Tokyo Olympics, Manpreet had to endure the worst phase of his career when former coach Sjoerd Marijne levelled serious allegations against him.

Marijne accused that Manpreet asked a player to underperform so that his friends could get in the team during 2018 Commonwealth Games, an allegation which both the men and women's teams jointly denied, stating that the Dutchman did so to publicise his book.

"That was the most difficult phase for me. I could never even think of such things. I was broken and lost faith in everyone. I told (PR) Sreejesh with whom I share everything. My mother also encouraged me to keep playing to fulfil my father's dream and my whole team supported me," said Manpreet. "In bad times, the support of the family and team is very important because at that time the player finds himself very lonely. When the team stands together, it gives a lot of encouragement and also helps in making a comeback. We have also seen Hardik Pandya making a great comeback recently." "When I look back now, it seems like a dream. I come from a humble background where we have seen struggles for the basic needs.

"Father used to work as a carpenter in Dubai but had returned from there due to medical reasons. My mother struggled a lot and both my brothers also played hockey but they left due to financial problems," said Manpreet, who was the flag-bearer of the Indian contingent at Tokyo Olympics along with boxing legend MC Mary Kom.

Manpreet is no longer captain of the side with Harmanpreet Singh taking over the responsibility, but the star mid-fielder knows his role in the team as one of the senior-most member.

"Even if I am not the captain now, it does not make any difference. Every player has his own role in hockey. The effort is to take everyone along. Being a senior, we have to inspire the youngsters," he said.

Manpreet, who idolises Pargat Singh, who too hails from Mithapur, said they followed the same process which they did during Tokyo in terms of preparation for Paris Games.

"Before the Tokyo Olympics, we spent maximum time together due to COVID that resulted in excellent team bonding. We will continue the same because 11 players are the same who were in Tokyo. We are sharing our experiences with the five debutants," he said.

India have been placed in tough pool in the Paris Olympics along side Australia, Belgium, Argentina, New Zealand and Ireland.

"Our pool is tough and we cannot take any team lightly. New Zealand has defeated us in the World Cup and Ireland has recently defeated Belgium. Our focus is on ourselves as to how we can execute our strategy," he said.

"We get less chances against good teams but converting 50-50 chances is the mark of a champion. We are well prepared to do that in Paris." PTI MJ SSC SSC SSC