Chennaiyin FC defender Gurmukh Singh has had to wait on the sidelines for quite some time in his debut ISL season, but is finally on track. The young centre-back has started each of their last two matches and could be a consistent presence in their backline going forward.
Marina Machans head coach Thomas Brdaric began the season with two foreign central defenders in Fallou Diagne and Vafa Hakhamaneshi. However, the emergence of Nasser El Khayati and the indispensability of Julius Duker in midfield has forced Brdaric to draft a third Indian defender into his XI.
Gurmukh Singh received the nod and has put in a couple of decent performances, recording nine clearances, two interceptions and a block. Chennaiyin lost his first start 3-1 against Hyderabad FC on December 3 before beating NorthEast United FC 7-3 in the second a week later.
It has been quite the jump for Gurmukh Singh, who spent last season at Rajasthan United in the I-League. Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda just days before his first start for Chennaiyin, he reflected on how the ISL compares to the I-League and said:
"ISL players are of a higher level. The I-League players also play at a high level but the ISL is at a slightly higher level."
He added that there were times when he watched the ISL and doubted if he would be at the required level to excel in India's top flight:
"Earlier when I used to watch it on TV, I used to feel that it was a big thing to play in the ISL. I used to think they’re very good players. They are very good players, but I used to think I couldn’t become like them."
Prior to his first start for Chennaiyin, Gurmukh Singh made his ISL bow as a late substitute during their 3-1 win over Jamshedpur FC on November 19. Regarding his experience from his official debut, he said:
"It’s the same thing where, when you look at it from the outside it’s one thing, and when you’re actually playing, it’s completely different. At first I was scared, but when I started playing, it felt like the same thing I had been doing [up to that point]."
"My job is to work hard" - Gurmukh Singh on his early days at Chennaiyin FC
Prior to the start of the ISL season, Gurmukh Singh played twice for Chennaiyin FC in the 2022 Durand Cup. He aggregated 101 minutes in those games, with the Marina Machans drawing 2-2 with Army Red FT and losing 3-1 to Hyderabad FC. However, he didn't feature in their next three games.
The 23-year-old was evidently low in the pecking order at a club that had signed two foreign centre-backs only this summer. Gurmukh subsequently played only one minute in his new club's first eight ISL matches.
Asked what went through his mind when he wasn't getting game-time, the former Rajasthan United defender responded:
"That depends on the coach. My job is to work hard. From my end, I’m working hard and when I get a chance, I will try to play well. Whenever I’ve gotten a chance, I’ve tried to play well and I have been able to play well."
Gurmukh Singh also added that in what is his first season at the club, his focus is on learning from his seniors:
"I have so much to learn now. It’s my first year. And I’m trying my best from my end. I have quite a few seniors who are defenders here, and I’m trying to keep learning from them. And whenever I get a chance, with God’s blessings, I’ll do the best I can."
Having received that chance, Gurmukh has shown glimpses of what he is capable of at the heart of the defense. He will now hope to continue improving, as will Chennaiyin FC, who are currently seventh in the standings as we enter the second half of the ISL 2022-23 season.