If being the first Indian to play in a competitive match for the first team of a top division club in Europe was not enough an accolade, Stabæk Fotball’s Gurpreet Singh Sandhu might very well be the first Indian to play in one of the most elite competitions of world football – the UEFA Europa League.
The lanky custodian is part of the Stabæk squad which secured a place in the first qualifying round of the Europa League 2016-17 as the ‘De Blaa’ currently run 3rd in the Norwegian Tippeligaen – 56 points out of 29 games – with the final game of the season in hand.
In an exclusive interview with AIFF Media, the former East Bengal custodian talked abreast about his Norwegian stint, the UEFA Europa League, the Indian National Team and a lot more.
How has the experience been with Stabæk?
It has been a great learning experience so far. I couldn’t be more proud of the way the team performed this season. The experience has certainly evolved me as a goalkeeper but there is still a long way to go. The journey has brought me to a much higher level physically and most importantly mentally.
You might very well be the first Indian to play in the Europa League.
Fingers crossed! It will certainly be a dream come true to play in the Europa League. At the same time it’ll also be a maturing experience in the goalkeeping aspect.
Was it difficult to acclimatize to Norwegian football?
It was a bit difficult to acclimatize given that the Norwegian League is one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. The higher standard of football in the Norwegian League makes it all the more challenging. However, the things that you learn daily are imperative and helps you go a long way.
You made your debut for India recently. Can you describe the moment?
I had been dying to make my debut. It was one of those moments when you are emotional and fiery inside at the same time. It feels surreal to a large extent because the emotion is so immense.
How much of a help has Coach Constantine been in the National Team?
The Gaffer has brought in a never-say-die attitude along-with a positive mentality. He (Constantine) tries to motivate each and every player to give their all out on the pitch. And as a footballer sometimes what you really need is that motivation.
And the Goalkeeping Coach Rogerio Ramos?
Rogerio (Ramos) has been an incredible Goalkeeping Coach. His innovative training methods have had a powerful and positive impact on me. And have helped me develop into a better goalkeeper. I wish I get to spend more time with (Rogerio) Ramos than usual.
Indian fans are going gaga over your achievements. Your message to them?
This is a proud moment for all the Indian football fans and I hope that my journey can inspires myriads of Indian footballers, who wish to ply their trade abroad. At the same time the fans need to keep supporting us and back their football team.
(Report & Photo courtesy AIFF Media)