Rich tributes pour in for Pakistan hockey legend Mansoor Ahmed

The 49-year-old Mansoor, regarded widely as the 1994 World Cup hero for Pakistan, was a thorough gentleman off the field as well.

File photo of Mansoor Ahmed during the Indira Gandhi Gold Cup hockey tournament in Lucknow in 1988.   -  The Hindu Archives

“On field, he was an artist!”

That’s how, Mir Ranjan Negi defines former Pakistan hockey captain and goalkeeper, Mansoor Ahmed, who passed away in Karachi after prolonged illness.

Having played against Mansoor for a fairly long time, Negi remembers India’s tour to Pakistan in 1981. “We lost an artist today. That team of Pakistan was one of the best in the world, and Mansoor was a major architect of that team,” Negi told Sportstar.

The 49-year-old Mansoor, regarded widely as the 1994 World Cup hero for Pakistan, was a thorough gentleman off the field as well. Negi fondly remembers the outings during India’s tour to Pakistan. “Unlike today, we players, had great bonding in those days. When in Pakistan, we would hang out together and there were also dinner invites at Hasan Sardar’s house, where Mansoor would ensure that the guests were well taken care of,” Negi said.

That was the time, when both the teams were getting used to the astro-turf surfaces. “They had adjusted to it well and Mansoor would constantly deliver the goods in both grass and astro-turf surfaces, he was a huge name,” Negi said.

V. Baskaran, one of India’s legendary hockey stars and a former coach, too remembers Mansoor for both his on and off the field feats. “He was the bravest of the goalkeepers, and he was also one of the most handsome players I have ever come across,” Baskaran said.

As Mansoor pleaded that he be treated in India, Baskaran got in touch with the Apollo Hospital in Chennai and even managed financiers. “But his health conditions worsened and the doctors suggested that he should not travel so much. It is really sad that we could not do much for him,” an emotional Baskaran stated.

Triple Olympian N. Mukesh Kumar is also shocked at the demise of his contemporary. “Mansoor bhai was a truly outstanding goalkeeper and I was fortunate to be of the same batch as him. Myself and Pillay (Dhanraj) were there in the circuit at the highest level for more than a decade,” Mukesh said from Hyderabad.

“In fact, I shot to prominence with my goal against Pakistan in the 1988 Junior World Cup final in Delhi in front of 20,000 crowd when he was the goalkeeper. I vividly remember that effort. It was a common ball and even before Mansoor bhai could reach the ball, I inadvertently slipped but still had control of the ball to catch him on the wrong foot and score what was the match-winning goal,” Mukesh recalled.

“That was before the Seoul Olympics and he encouraged me a lot with words of appreciation,” he said, adding: “I read reports about Mansoor bhai seeking medical treatment in India. Somehow, I could not get in touch with him but never thought the end would be so soon,” the Hyderabadi said.

Mukesh also remembers some off the field anecdotes. “He was always a very affable player who made it a point to mention to me about that goal later when we used to meet over dinner during international events. By all means, Mansoor belonged to the era when Pakistan dominated the world hockey by their skills. The hockey fraternity misses a gentle soul. I sincerely convey my condolences to the bereaved family members,” Mukesh said.

A player extraordinaire, Mansoor shall be remembered for his contribution to the game. As the fraternity mourns his demise, his contemporaries believe that the Pakistani great is gone too soon!

(Compiled by Shayan Acharya and V.V. Subrahmanyam)

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