Manpreet Singh, who led India to the Hockey Asia Cup title after a decade, is all praise for former skipper Sardar Singh, saying the veteran midfielder's presence in defence in the prestigious tournament was a boost for the backline.
Comprising the likes of youngsters Dipsan Tirkey, Kothajit Singh, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh and Varun Kumar, India's backline lacked experience. So, the 31-year-old Sardar, who returned to the national team after being dropped for the tour to Europe last month, was placed in the defence.
"We felt that Sardar Singh is a more experienced player. He can come up with long passes and he can control the ball and hold the ball better than other players. That's why we shifted him to the back line. Moreover, because he is an experienced player, he can guide the team from behind. That is why the coach felt that he will be better in defence," Manpreet told IANS.
The Manpreet-led Indian players, who were playing under the newly appointed coach Sjoerd Marijne, displayed their temperament and skills in the meet to win the title.
India won all the three pool matches to advance to the next round at the top of their group. In the Super-4s stage, India played a 1-1 draw against South Korea and won the two other matches. They defeated Malaysia 2-1 in the final to clinch the trophy.
When asked about his experience under the new coach, Manpreet said every team member is comfortable with him.
"The new coach is a nice person and is very friendly with the team. Everyone is comfortable with him. If they want to share anything with him, they can open up to him and talk," Manpreet said.
"He always tells us that 'players drive and coaches assist'. He always encourages us to talk to him so he can help us. So it's very good that he encourages the players.
"Even during the game if anyone makes mistakes on the field he always motivates them, never puts anyone down. He is a very positive person; even during tense moments he never shouts," he added.
Manpreet, who is also a Red Bull athlete, credited the teamwork they displayed in the tournament which helped them to win the title.
"We won the Asia Cup because of teamwork. Everyone gave his best and made India proud. It has also motivated us for the upcoming tournaments," he said.
When asked about the secret behind his performance, the 25-year-old midfielder said: "I have been using Red Bull even before during matches as it keeps me going while I play. Proud to be a part of the Red Bull family."
(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at gaurav firstname.lastname@example.org)