LAHORE    -    When he left as a player, Pakistan were Olympic gold medalists, the last they won under his leadership at Los Angeles in 1984. And when he left Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) as a selector, Pakistan were world champions in 1994, their last major world title in the game.

And now when Pakistan hockey is in shambles and Pakistan are placed at 17th spot in world rankings, the most mercurial hockey player, the game has ever seen, Manzoor Junior has once again come forward to turn the fortunes of the game. Now as chief selector of Pakistan Hockey Federation, he is determined to identify the best talent in the country to prepare it for bringing the old glory days back again.

“I was a member of selection committee, when the national hockey team won its last World Cup and Champions Trophy in 1994. After that, Pakistan hockey decline started and nobody could stop those, who brought the national game to such a low,” said the legend, who has the most gold medals under his belt than any other player in the sub-continent.

“Seeing the downfall of the national game, we, the former Olympians, gathered at one platform and intended to save the sinking ship of Pakistan hockey. We decided to meet the PHF President Brig (R) Khalid Sajjad Khokar, who warmly welcomed us and also listened to us well but due to former PHF Secretary Shahbaz Ahmad Senior, we couldn’t join hands with the federation.

“But soon after former Olympian Asif Bajwa joining the PHF as General Secretary, we decided shoulder the responsibility of taking Pakistan hockey to new heights after Asif Bajwa assured us of the federation’s all-out support and allowed us to work freely for the betterment of hockey. Khawaja Junaid, Khalid Bashir, Abbas Shah, Hanif Khan, Haider Hussain, Dr Junaid Ali Shah and others were the active persons, who made the campaign of saving hockey a success,” he added.

The former Olympian said that they began their campaign by working on grassroots level. “Our main focus is school, college, university and provincial level hockey and we are working on it. We are hopeful of finding fresh talent, which, after proper training and grooming, will start producing better results for the country at higher level.”

He suggested that national broadcaster and other TV media should on-air old hockey matches to show the nation the true heroes of Pakistan hockey, who had won a record number of Olympic gold medals and World Cups.

“I think right now, there is a dire need to attract youth towards hockey through media, as it is our national game. If we succeed in creating the youth’s interest in this game, they will start adopting it as a profession. We will also try to arrange jobs for them, so that they may fully focus on their games, without worrying about earning bread and butter for their families.”

The hockey legend said that his main job is to identify the real talent and then hand over that talent to the coaches. “Now it will be the coaches’ responsibility, how they polish and groom the talent and how they get the best out of them.”

Manzoor said along with head coach, the role of assistant coaches and other supporting staff is also crucial to groom the budding talent and they should also be held equally responsible, if the team doesn’t deliver goods.

When asked what the reasons of hockey decline are and how it can be revived in the country, the golden player replied: “After 1984, Pakistan hockey decline started and in 1986, Pakistan team fell to its lowest ranking of 11th. Col (R) Mudassar and former PHF President and PIA Chairman Farooq Umar then took the responsibility of reviving the national game and they remained successful in achieving their task, as Pakistan won the World Cup and Champions Trophy in 1994. I was member selection committee then.

“After that, once again the downfall of the national game started and now the team is standing at the 17th number in the world. Now we have started campaign of hunting promising talent and by proper training and grooming, the fresh talent can produce desired results for us. We are hopeful that till the next Olympics in 2024, we will succeed in making the best combination, which will not only qualify for the mega event, but will also improve the international rankings of Pakistan team, which will surely finish high in the said event.”

Manzoor said the government’s unequivocal support is indispensable for the rise of the game and the private sector must also come forward to support the national cause. He said most of the hockey players come from humble backgrounds and they need financial support to carry on with their game and keep them fit with proper diet.

“The end of departmental hockey has badly damaged the national sport. In our era, a good player would have three or four job offers at a time to choose and we didn’t have had any worries about our financial future. But now, the players even have to struggle to keep them fit and healthy by taking proper diet from their own pockets.”