'Sachin paaji has been an inspiration for me. He helped me a lot in the last 3-4 months, which were tough'
He was low on confidence after the Commonwealth Games snub earlier this year but a telephonic chat with the iconic Sachin Tendulkar motivated Sardar Singh to work hard towards regaining his place in the national team.
Sardar, 32, walked into the sunset on Wednesday after a glorious 12-year career following a disastrous Asian Games campaign, where India failed to defend its title and returned home with a consolation bonze.
Left out of India's squad for this year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Sardar sought advise from Tendulkar and the legend's tips worked wonders for the former hockey captain as he made a successful comeback into the side for the Champions Trophy, where he helped India win a historic silver.
"Sachin paaji has been an inspiration for me. He helped me a lot in the last 3-4 months, which were tough," Sardar told reporters during his first interaction here with reporters post retirement.
"There has never been an occasion when he didn't answer my call. After I was dropped from CWG squad, I was very low and called Sachin paaji and asked him what he used to do when he scored 0."
"He counselled me for close to 20 minutes and advised me to forget about criticisms and stay motivated and focussed. He told me to analyse my old videos, play my natural hockey and it helped me in bouncing back," he added.
Sardar was a livewire in the midfield during his 12-year stellar career during which he led India to Asian Games gold in Incheon (2014) besides two bronze medals in 2010 and 2018. He won two Commonwealth Games silver, a historic silver in the Champions Trophy (2018 Breda), two Asia Cup titles and numerous other trophies.
But not having won an Olympic and a World Cup medal besides International Hockey Federation (FIH) Player of the Year award still remains a regret for the talismanic midfielder.
"I always wanted to win the FIH 'Player of the Year' award once but it will remain a dream. I also wanted to win an Olympic and World Cup medal. These will remain as my biggest regrets," Sardar said.
Many feel that Sardar was made a scapegoat for India's disastrous campaign and was forced to retire but he reiterated that it was his personal decision as mentally he was done with the game.
"Initially, I had planned to play till 2020 Olympics but after failing to win the Asiad gold, the entire plan changed. I faced a lot of hardships in life but day-by-day it was becoming difficult for me to think over my game. Every night thinking about next day's training, about passes not going well started taking a toll on me mentally," he said.
"In these last 12 years, I have managed a lot of stress but not anymore. It was a hard and difficult decision. I will miss hockey, I will miss those training sessions and the dressing room environment. But every beautiful thing has to end somewhere."
Sardar, however, feels that at least core players should be given guarantee of their places without putting pressure after a bad outing.
"Yes, I do feel there is plenty of pressure on a player. At least 10-11 players should be sure of their places in the team because pressure plays a lot on your mind if you are in uncertainty," he said.
The former captain said he has left Indian hockey in good shape and the team now needs to do minor corrections and adjustments to be medal contenders in big events.
"When we started, India was around 13 or 14th ranked in the world. We have made giant strides from there in the past 4-5 years. We have started playing semi-finals. But we need to know how to win big games and kill time in the final stages when we are leading," Sardar said.
Sardar said post retirement he will continue to play in European leagues and will try to tie up with best foreign clubs and bring in good coaches for Indian youngsters.