One of Pakistan’s most decorated hockey players, Manzoor Hussain, better known as Manzoor Junior, died of a massive heart attack in Lahore on August 29. He was captain of Pakistan’s last Olympic gold medal winning side of 1984.
Other than that, he was the first choice right-in of Pakistan’s gold-winning teams in the 1978 and 1982 World Cups and Asian Games, the 1982 Asia Cup and the 1979 Junior World Cup (also the team’s captain). It’s no wonder he was called the ‘Golden boy of Pakistan hockey’.
It all started in the 1970s in Sialkot when Shahnaz Sheikh, known as the ‘Pele of hockey’, emerged as an inspiration for the youth of that city. Manzoor joined Shahnaz’s independent club, where he played at the left-out position. He was still in his early teens when he featured in his first national events in 1972. The following year saw him playing in the final of the national championships for Lahore division.
In 1974, Manzoor toured Kenya and Tanzania with the Pakistan junior team. The following year, he found himself in the national team. Then, in the first match of the 1975 home series against Australia, Pakistan’s captain, centre-forward Rasheed Jr got injured and Manzoor was played in the remaining matches in the unfamiliar centre-forward’s position in his place. But he scored a goal on his international debut.
Remembering one of Pakistan’s most decorated hockey players, Manzoor Jr, who passed away last week
With Rasheed still unavailable, Manzoor was taken on as the spearhead of the 1975 Hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur where Pakistan went all the way to the final, only to lose 1-2 to India. But earlier, in the semi-final against Germany, the teenager displayed a big match temperament by scoring two goals.
Rasheed Jr returned and Manzoor went to the Montreal Pre-Olympic festival in 1976 as a reserve utility forward. With the great full-back Manzoorul Hassan already in the Pakistan team, the new Manzoor then came to be known as Manzoor Junior.
Meanwhile, still playing as a left-out on the domestic circuit, he had joined PIA. This was a time when Pakistan hockey was brimming with brilliant forwards on the left side, including established greats such as Samiullah and Shahnaz, soon to be joined by Hanif Khan. There were also Saeed Khan and Safdar Abbas.
After Mohammed Azam, the first choice right-in from 1973 to 1975, had migrated to England, the finest hockey brain of Pakistan, Brig (retd) M.H. Atif was appointed as team manager for the 1976 Olympics. He made what later turned out to be a ‘revolutionary’ decision by switching Manzoor Jr to the right flank. Atif worked on young Manzoor Jr and gradually inculcated in him the essentials of a right-in. Pakistan easily topped the pool at the Montreal Olympics.
In the semi-final, Pakistan went ahead in the very first minute. The next minute, the Australian full-back struck left-in Shahnaz Sheikh’s rib cage with an atrocious swing of the stick. He had to be carried off the field. Surprisingly, reserve right-in Mudassar Asghar was sent in as the replacement instead of left-in Hanif Khan and Manzoor Jr was switched to the left-in position. Pakistan’s brilliant forward line, which had been displaying wonderful coordination throughout the tourney, lost its rhythm after this adjustment. Australia won the semi-final 2-1.
About his decision, Brig Atif later said: “Instead of entering teenager Hanif, I sent in Mudassar, an experienced player and serving army officer, on the assumption that the latter would adjust better in the prevailing situation.”
Many commented that moving Manzoor Jr to left-in cost Pakistan the berth in the final. In the bronze medal playoff against Holland, Pakistan had to maintain its record of winning a medal at every Olympics since 1956. The match was 2-2 with two minutes to go and it was Manzoor Jr who then netted the winning goal. With four goals at the Olympics, he was Pakistan’s top scorer among the forwards.
A few months later, Manzoor Jr again emerged as Pakistan’s go-to man at the high profile Quaid-e-Azam Centenary Tournament in Lahore. The enthralling final between the hosts and Holland was locked at 1-1 entering the sudden death period. All of a sudden, Manzoor went on a dribbling run, beautifully eliminating three Dutch defenders before slotting the ball home.
The year 1978 saw the dawn of the most glorious era for Pakistan, not only in hockey but any team sport. Winning all the eight matches in brilliant style, Pakistan regained the World Cup in Argentina. Manzoor Jr scored four goals. His defence-splitting passes, especially to the right flank, were a constant feature. Right-out Islahuddin, the team captain, had seven goals, most of which were initiated by Manzoor Jr.
Later that year, Pakistan won gold at the Asian Games and also the inaugural edition of the Champions Trophy. The same year, Manzoor Jr also captained Pakistan to victory at the first Junior World Cup, which remains the country’s only success at this event.
The Green Shirts were the overwhelming favourites for the gold at the 1980 Olympics. But Pakistan, along with several other countries, boycotted the Moscow Olympics in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The next title event, the 1982 World Cup in Mumbai, turned out to be Pakistan hockey’s magnum opus. They simply ran over the opposition, winning every match by a margin of two or more goals. Manzoor Jr saved the best for last. In the final against Germany, with the score level at 1-1, he scored one of the most memorable goals ever seen in the final of any big event.
This is how former Indian captain Gurbux Singh described it: “He scored in such a spectacular way that the crowd went berserk with joy. He dribbled his way from the centre line, broke through the cordon of the German defence and, veering on to the right side, tapped the ball low past the goalkeeper.”
Pakistan saw more glory in India that year. They regained the gold at the Asian Games in Delhi with a resounding 7-1 win in the final against the hosts. Earlier, Pakistan had also won the first Asia Cup in Karachi.
Still, Pakistan were far from being the favourites at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Australia had beaten Pakistan in the last seven tournaments to be the top contenders. Manzoor Jr, the captain of the team, was also the Pakistan contingent’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony.
Pakistan struggled in the pool games. Of the five matches, they won only two and drew three and made it into the semi-final to face the mighty Australians on the back of goal difference. Just before half-time, Manzoor Jr sent a slick parallel pass to spearhead Hassan Sardar, who then scored from the top of the circle. Pakistan came out victorious 1-0. The final against Germany went into extra time before Pakistan won 2-1 to take the country’s last Olympic gold.
The captain’s role is minimal in sports such as hockey and football, but Manzoor Jr marshalled his troops at the Los Angeles Olympics. He was seen in all parts of the ground, going right and left, feeding both the flanks, especially in the knock-out stages, repeatedly falling back to retrieve the ball from his half.
Manzoor Jr bid adieu to international hockey the same year, having played 175 matches and scored 86 goals. The 1984 Champions Trophy was his swansong. His two younger brothers, Maqsood and Mahmood, were also in the team then, the only instance in Pakistan hockey history when three brothers played at the same time in the national team.
He was conferred with the Presidential Pride of Performance award that year, too.
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 11th, 2022