Chandigarh born 6’6” tall Gurpreet Singh Sandhu became the second Indian after the legendary Mohammed Salim to represent a 1st Team of a Top Division European Club. Interestingly Gurpreet became the first footballer in the post-independence era to play for a top side European club, as he made his debut for Norwegian side Stabæk Fotball Club in a friendly match, while the last footballer to do so was the legendary Mohammed Salim as he joined Celtic back in 1936.
Twenty two year old goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh was born in Mohali, Punjab and is currently the only Indian football player plying his trade not only outside India but in Europe with Norwegian top flight side Stabaek FC. He signed for the Norwegian side in the summer transfer window of 2014, having previously played for Kolkata giants East Bengal. It is worth pointing out that this is not a loan arrangement or a commercial deal but instead based purely on talent, ability and merit.
Here are the excerpts from his interview with Sportzwiki editor Dipesh Agarwal.
Dipesh: First and foremost, Congratulations on being the second Indian after the legendary Mohammed Salim to represent a 1st Team of a Top Division European Club. How does it feel to be playing in Norway?
Gurpreet: Thank you it is an honour to represent India in European football and follow the footsteps of our footballing legends such as Mohammed Salim. It feels great to be here in Norway and getting able to play at European standards.
Dipesh: How different is the football culture there compared to India?
Gurpreet: The Football culture here is very different and everything is very professional. You get all the basic facilities and the coaching, training and club management is very good if you compare from India.
Dipesh: Did Trevor James Morgan had a major impact on your career?
Gurpeet: I think he did, he believed in me and made me play games in order to develop myself and supported me throughout every obstacle I faced in my East Bengal days. I thank him for that.
Dipesh: It must have come as a surprise when Stabaek called you up, how did that deal happen?
Gurpreet: Yes, it was a surprise and a risk as I had to leave all the offers in india behind, Stabaeks goalkeeping coach (Espen Granli) trained Al Habsi in his Norwegian days and through Budgie knowing him I got an opportunity to come here for a trial. I trained with the team for a month after when I got to know that Stabaek is interested to sign me up and we waited till the transfer window to complete the deal.
Dipesh: Who are your footballing idols?
Gurpreet: Edwin Van Der Sar and our Spiderman Subrata Paul.
Dipesh: Have you picked up any Norwegian words or phrases?
Gurpreet: Yeah some of them so that I can use them while playing but, everyone knows English so on that part it’s good.
Dipesh: Everyone in India thinks about playing cricket why or how did you choose football?
Gurpreet: I always said this that I think Football chose me instead of me choosing Football. In SchooI, I had won a 100m race when the coach of our schools football academy (St. Stephens, Chandigarh) came up and asked me to join the academy, I already had tried playing cricket and even volleyball so thought no harm in trying football. Since that day I started and never dreamt of coming this far.
Dipesh: What are your plans for the future?
Gurpreet: Well I want to develop myself here as much as I can and then look forward to take a step higher maybe to a bigger league in Europe. Lets see what happens.
Dipesh: Did you enjoy the ISL? What do you think about the popularity and growth of football in India post ISL?
Gurpreet: Yes, I did enjoy the ISL I think the response was outstanding we got to see so many young talented players. Yes, I think the popularity of the game has been on a high after the ISL people are interested in the game and want to watch it.
Dipesh: Do you think ISL is the way forward for Indian football or I-league should be the priority?
Gurpreet: I think ISL is a good concept to promote the game and is a way forward for sure but, I league has been there for years and has produced good players so it won’t be right to forget the contribution of the I league.
Dipesh: Lastly, what’s your message for the young Indian footballers?
Gurpreet: It’s very important for the youngsters to get good advice, so it is very important to know if you are being guided to the right direction or not. Go where you can develop not where you can earn more, once you are at your best money will follow.