Jaipur Pink Panthers may have lost their last home leg match against U.P. Yoddha on Thursday but they managed to win plenty of hearts with their gesture of giving the captaincy to defender and national hero Navneet Gautam in his final VIVO Pro Kabaddi match. Though he failed to score any points for his side on the night, his mere presence on the mat was enough to get fans on their feet and cheering his every move.

“I think this is the right time for me to retire because the next generation of kabaddi players are here and are performing well,” said Gautam at the post-match press conference, “I think that I was not able to match their stamina or even their level of mental toughness. That is the reason and I think this is the right choice. I would like to thank Jaipur for the respect which they have given me through the last five seasons and I would also like to thank Abhishek Bachchan. A special thank you is also to the coach because I played three Asian Games under him. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to play under him.”

In his emotional address, the man who led the Pink Panthers to their inaugural crown also thanked the members of the media for the respect he was shown all through his playing years and said he was happy to move into the next phase of his life. “This is a turning point for me because I am going into the second stage of my life. It happens in every sport. There are some players who leave quietly and there are some players who get to announce such decisions. This is a very emotional moment for me and I have come with all my emotions to speak with you. I would like to thank all of you for showing me this level of respect for the past 15 years. I would like to thank the entre Jaipur media, Rajasthan media and the entire Indian media.”

In parting, World Cup winner Gautam shed some light on his plans after retirement. “I would like to spend my time with my family now because I was not able to be with them all this while. After that I will prepare for my second innings. Let us see which team hires me for coaching,” concluded Gautam with a smile.

Jaipur Pink Panthers coach Balwan Singh, who has seen Gautam through all his ups and downs at the national level and in the league, also stressed the importance of letting the star defender go out with a bang. “Navneet told me that this will be his last VIVO Pro Kabaddi match. So I decided that we should make him play and not have such a great name sit on the bench. We wanted to make his last match memorable for him. Every player plays and works for respect and we wanted to ensure Navneet got the respect he deserved,” he said.