Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was a familiar name in the Indian football quarters during his time with Kolkata giants East Bengal Club. His popularity has just expanded to Norway, where he is currently plying his trade with Norwegian top-flight side Stabæk IF.
The 22-year-old lanky goalkeeper joined Stabæk last summer and made his debut for the Norwegian side in a friendly match against Follo Fotballklubb on January 18, 2015. He appeared for the second time for his side against Bærum SK in an away game on January 23.
The I-League Media team caught up with Sandhu, who has been achieving milestones in Europe, for an exclusive chat on his journey, aims, Hero I-League, and more.
Gurpreet, first of all, how was the feeling like to make your first-team debut for Stabæk?
I felt really proud to get the opportunity to play for the first team and follow the footsteps of our footballing legends. I remained happy and focused during the game.
In your own words, explain the journey from East Bengal to Stabæk…
It has been a huge jump for me to come from East Bengal and land in Norway. It was John Burridge who knew Espen Granli (the GK coach of Stabæk) from the time he sent Al Habsi to Norway. So through him I got a chance to get a trial in Stabæk.
I came and trained with the first team and after a month the club was happy with my development and they offered me a deal but I couldn’t sign at the same time as the transfer window was not opened until August. As soon as it did, I signed with Stabæk.
It has been a journey full of ups and downs.
We know there are a lot of differences between Indian football and European football. What have you personally noticed and felt is the biggest difference?
I think the first and foremost thing is the basic infrastructure, the training pitches and the match grounds. They are top class and the amount of professionalism in every single department and the level of coaching, how to nurture a player, is also very good and positive.
Explain the new aspects of goalkeeping you have learnt and brought on in your game…
I have been working on every single aspect of goalkeeping, just to make myself faster and agile and quicker. The training methods are different and everything over here is concentrated on your body balance, core strength.
So every single aspect has been polished according to me.
Have you been catching up with time to follow Indian football?
Yes, I do keep myself posted with the Indian matches online. Even watch some of them online when I get time.
What do you make out of the current Hero I-League season? Have you been checking the news and updates on www.i-league.org?
I think the response and the amount of professionalism has risen in this edition of the Hero I-League and it’s great to have a separate website for the league as a whole.
What do you think is the I-League’s importance to contribute to Indian football as a whole?
The I-League definitely has contributed so much by giving us so many good Indian players, which we even saw in the Hero ISL.
Who are the footballers in India you still are in contact with? Do you discuss tactics with them, and share various ideas of the game?
Yes, I am in contact with some players. Always try to keep myself updated from the action from India, and yes I do discuss about how different everything is here from India.
Subrata (Pal) bhai, Harmanjot Khabra, Manandeep (Singh), I am mostly in frequent touch with them.
How has the Norwegian league been so far?
It is very competitive and a physically tough players league. For me personally, it has been pretty good to experience a European League.
What do the Europeans have to say about your performance out there? Are you getting interest from other European clubs too?
The response has been good, don’t know yet if any clubs are interested, but before signing here I got to know that even Everton were interested in me.
From Chandigarh to Norway, haven’t the weather conditions got you a bit uneasy?
The weather is extremely cold here and it snows! Luckily for me, I like this weather, and I’m adjusting to it quite fast.
Thing you are missing the most about India…
The food and the noise!
Any Indian football club trying to contact you to get back your services…?
Not to my knowledge, no.
Finally, five years from now, where do you see yourself, and how do you want the world to know Gurpreet Singh Sandhu as?
I think I would want to see myself as a better and improved player at a place where the football standard is even higher.
I want to be known as a good person and make all the young Indian footballers realize that if I can make it, so can they and reach even more heights.
(Interview & Picture courtesy I-League Media)