Previously we brought to you exclusive interviews with Indian women players Aditi Chauhan and Tanvie Hans. And now, we have had the honours to talk to Indian Men’s National Team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who joined Norway club Stabaek FC last season.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is the first Indian footballer ever to play a competitive match for the first team of a top division European club. There were four players before Gurpreet who played professionally in Europe. They are Mohammed Salim, Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and Subrata Pal. However, no one of them got a chance to play for a top division football club. Naturally, there have been a lot of hypes about Gurpreet among the Indian football enthusiasts.
We had a chance to talk to the goalkeeper of late and in an exclusive interview, he has talked about his life, his experiences in Europe and many more things. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Q: How did you start playing football? Who would you like to thank the most for reaching here?
Gurpreet: I was selected in my school’s football academy (St. Stephens School, Chandigarh) in 2000 and since then, I have been playing. I (would definitely) thank all the coaches I have been under. (They) have put their hard work on mending me into who I am. I owe it to them.
Q: When did you realize that you have the potential to play in a top European league?
Gurpreet: I think (it should be) when I was in East Bengal and John Burridge came over to watch the derby match. He saw me in training and that was the day when he told me ‘Son you can play in Europe!’ And since that day I started to believe that I can.
Q: Describe the moment how you got the offer to play in Norway?
Gurpreet: Budgie aka John Burridge is a friend of the current goalkeeper coach in Stabaek, Mr. Espen Granli. He told Espen that there is a kid who they can use and would be great if they can give me a chance for a trial. That’s how I got to Stabaek. With a two week trial in mind I left and ended up signing with Stabaek and staying there for 7 months!
Q: Was there any other offers also?
Gurpreet: Yes, there were good offers from I league, ISL and even Everton was interested.
Q: What is the main difference between European league and I league? What changes should I league or AIFF bring in to help India move ahead in the FIFA rankings?
Gurpreet: Its hard to explain it in words. You need to experience to understand why it is better. The players you play with over there day in day out have a good football education. And the basic facilities are good, the weather is good, the fans are great. Mainly they all are professionals (and) they don’t make compromises. Until and unless more players start to play outside India it’s hard for the national team to improve because to get better, the players need to move out and that too at a young age!
Q: What is your take on ISL? Do you think it will be able to improve Indian football?
Gurpreet: For sure ISL has brought football in every single house in India. It has grown the name of the game but it still has to do a lot to actually produce good players and improve players.
Q: What is your club’s or other European clubs’ opinion on Indian football? Which other Indian player do you think has the potential to thrive well in a European league?
See, they don’t take players seeing there passports or where they come from. They take players on merit, and in my opinion every single youngster in India has a shot at playing in Europe because then the clubs can improve them accordingly and use them as assets. It’s all about going to the right place at the right time.
Q: Where do you want to see yourself 5 years from now on?
Gurpreet: First (I want to see) myself playing every week for the first team. And (then) maybe a higher league or a higher club.
Finally, we asked Gurpreet which team he supports. And the answer came at once – Real Madrid. He also said that his favorite player is former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar. However, he never had a chance to meet him and he is eagerly waiting for the day. The 23 year old signed off with a smiling face, saying “I’m an open book. Everyone knows everything about me.”
We certainly hope so, man! Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has made India proud and we hereby wish him all the best for his future.
(You may also like: Exclusive interview with Pakistan goalkeeper Syeda Mahpara Shahid)
Photo by Oddne Rasmussen