Gurpreet Singh Sandhu says Indian football can only progress if more footballers play abroad
Mumbai: Playing in Norway for top division club Stabaek has helped him grow as a footballer, feels goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who wants more of his countrymen to follow in his footsteps to help India rise as a power in the sport.
"My aim was to play in Norway, break into the first team and play in the first team. I have grown as a player in all aspects of the game. I will try to keep getting better. Playing in Europe is better for me," said the 24-year-old goalkeeper who has been called up for the international friendly against Puerto Rico at the Andheri Sports Complex stadium in Mumbai on September 3.
"I feel good that at least we have a player (himself playing overseas). I would have been happy if it was anyone else too. It's an important factor, playing outside India.
"That's the only way Indian football is going to progress, with more players playing outside. I believe every one of them can play outside India, especially the under 17 players. The younger the better," Gurpreet told reporters on Wednesday.
"My contract expires next year. I would try for another club, the higher the league, higher the club, whichever country, it's okay for me," said the Mohali-born youngster, who is the first Indian to figure in a competitive match for the first team of a top-division European club.
"It has been an uphill battle for me. When I went to Norway first I was not at that level. I had to make myself capable to play at that level when I was ready I challenged him (first choice goalkeeper Sayouba Mande of Ivory coast). I learnt a lot from him and he says he has learnt a lot from me. I don't know what," said Gurpreet about his stint in the Scandinavian country.
"I never thought I would be at this point, it's dream come true to play in Europe. I am always proud of what I have done.
"My debut was against Asia's no. 1 team (Iran). That's the first time ever I got to play against Asia's best team," he said about his appearance against the West Asian giants in the FIFA World Cup qualifier at Bengaluru when asked about his most memorable moment when playing on Indian soil.
Gurpreet said he now has to fight for his spot in the Norwegian club following an injury.
"I was injured two months ago. It's recovery time. It's an uphill battle for me. I have to fight for my spot. I have done that before and I will do that."
The youngster complimented senior custodian Subrata Paul for being conferred with the Arjuna Award and said he had learnt a lot from the latter.
"I have been in national team since 2010 and I have been training with Subrata bhai for a long time now. There are things I have learnt from him. The achievement (Arjuna Award) he has got now, he deserved it. He got it a bit late, (but) it's a very good thing."
Gurpreet agreed it was a tricky period for Indian football with seniors giving way to juniors at the national level.
"It's a pretty tricky situation. It's very important for the national team to have that kind of transition. We need to have long term plans and that's what the coaching staff have. It's always good to see young players coming in and getting an opportunity to play in the national team."
According to Gurpreet, the difference between here and in Norway was only the weather conditions and the quality of players he trained with.
"There is no problem in the intensity over here. The only difference is it's a lot less humid there and the quality of players there whom you play with and train with, which makes you raise your level up."
Looking ahead to the game against Puerto Rico, who are higher in world ranking than India, Gurpreet said he and his teammates were up for the challenge.
"I am pretty ready, always ready. I am looking for the opportunity. They are a good side according to their ranking, but we are ready for the battle."
The visitors are ranked 114 as compared to India's 152.
"I am lucky to play under Constantine sir. He has done well. His coaching makes players' mentally stronger which is good," he remarked about playing under chief national coach Stephen Constantine.
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