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Doors still open for a European experience: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu   

  • Gurpreet Singh Sandhu talks about a potential return to Europe, ISL's 2020 return and the future of Indian football.
  • The Bengaluru FC custodian elucidated on why Indian clubs have failed on the continental front in the past few years
Mohak Arora
SENIOR ANALYST
Exclusive
Modified 23 May 2020, 14:02 IST

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu playing for the Indian national team
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu playing for the Indian national team

Football has resumed in Germany but Indian national team custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu feels the Indian Super League (ISL) will not start any time soon. The Bengaluru FC star affirmed that the lives of people and flattening of the Coronavirus curve is the country's top most priority at the moment.

The 28-year old who is currently in Austraia spoke at length about his European sojourn, the lack of success for ISL clubs at the continental level and the addition of new Indian national team coach Igor Stimac.

During a live session on Sportskeeda's Instagram handle, Gurpreet elucidated on several aspects about India's footballing landscape.

Excerpts:

Q. You had several stints abroad including a successful stint in Norway. After reaching such heights in European football, are you ever tempted to go back? You also had several trials/training stints in UK, you were close to joining a club as well. Is playing in England still a goal for you?

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: Playing in Europe was never my aim as I was already playing for one of the biggest clubs in the I-League. But the experience was great. When someone like John Burridge came down to India to convince me to join the club, that was when I started to aim to play in Europe. Chhetri bhai was also playing in Europe at that time and Baichung Bhutia as well, so it motivated me and I just did it."

2012 was the first time when I went to England for the first time. I went to Wigan and had a taste for English football for 7 days helped me realize that we have to achieve a lot to reach that level in the Indian football and it was an incredible experience.

There were some ups and downs, I also had a trial with Bolton Wanderers but that didn't go well and it didn't happen. I was very very lucky to get a three-year deal in Norway, usually players from lower-ranked unproven countries don't get a very long contract.

A three-year deal in Europe is something that I wanted and I learnt a long during that period. Every single footballer in India would love to go there and play including myself. I have learnt from my fair share of experience that the beginning is very hard, it's not a direct jump from Bengaluru FC to Manchester United unless you are a Ronaldo or a Messi.

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You need to start at a lower stage as I did in Norway and then you can go up from there. You need to be very young, like 15 or 16, the three years I spent in Norway when I was 22 and not 15.

Now, at this age and phase of my career, I don't want to go to a place where I feel I am wasting my career, I would rather go to a club where I can contribute and have game time. But my mind is open, my doors are open if the right opportunity comes, I would take it with a blink of an eye.

Q. How do you think the level of Indian football compares to European football?

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: We are right up there. The amount of professionalism that has grown in India is phenomenal. I have seen the time when there was no ISL. The ISL has helped Indian football reach every household with a cable connection right now. It's growing day by day.


Q. It's been a tough outing off late for Indian teams at the Asian level for the last two years. Why do you think Indian clubs despite increase in regional popularity has seen a recent drought at the continental level?

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: To do well in Asia, you have to think about being in Asia. In the past, Indian teams lacked the hunger and the desire to be in the Top 15-20 teams of Asia but with time, the focus has changed. It is no longer a competition you have to play if you win the league, now you try to win the league to play in the Asian competition and that shift in mindset is crucial. The success of BFC in Asia laid down the path as we reached the semi-finals of the Asia Cup.

It was a mixed experience to go to North Korea and play there. People were talking about missiles but we focused on the job on hand. I will always remember for the rest of the life that I got a clean sheet and saved a penalty against 4.25 SC in a match of that magnitude. I have faced tougher teams but that result was significant for Indian football and was a sign of team character that Bengaluru FC has.

Q. Which young players have impressed you from the ISL?

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: Suresh Wangjam is one of the best youngsters we had at the club last season. Leon (Augustine) is good, Prabhsukhan Gill is a great prospect, a very fine young goalkeeper with a lot of time to grow.

Sumit Rathi is an impressive talent and also has a lot of time to grow. Sahal is still very young, he can do so much, he will be very very important for us in Indian football in the coming years

(Lallianzuala) Chhangte and Jerry had good seasons with their clubs as well, Thapa had a good season as well

Q. When do you think the ISL should return? There are rumours that November could be likely, what are your thoughts on this?

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: I don't think anyone can answer that at this moment. People's safety is very very important right now. Till we reach a stage where the curve has flattened, we can not discuss when to resume football again. We had 6600 cases in the last 24 hours and sporting events are not a priority right now.

They have it in control over their in Europe, so they are already discussing resuming leagues, already happened in Germany, happening in Italy and England soon. Sports provides comfort and normalcy for people and lifts people's spirits even if it is played behind closed doors.

Obviously, I can't wait to play in front of West Block Blue fans again, they are trendsetters in Indian football in terms of banners and chants.

Q. Do you think a longer season would benefit Indian football at large?

Gurpeet Singh Sandhu: Of course, yes. That is what was happening before when we only had the I-League. Nine months of football is great and that's the usual norm of football being played across the world. More teams and games in the league will help groom more youngsters as they will get more game time. People are already discussing it and we need to be patient with this. I am truly in for having a longer season till April or May.

Q. Having played for East Bengal yourself before, do you think it's time they should follow Mohun Bagan and come to the ISL?

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: If it works out for them and they can be in the ISL, then why not. They are a great team and a team like East Bengal with their history will certainly raise the stature of the league.

Q. How's the experience of playing under Indian national team coach Igor Stimac been?

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: With coach Igor it has been amazing. The amount of experience and knowledge he brings in is truly phenomenal. We learn a lot every single day with the national team. It's a shame we are sitting at home in the time that was supposed to be international duty for all the players. I can't wait to play under coach Igor again.

Published 23 May 2020, 14:02 IST
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