Indian Football

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: The Norway stint made me more ruthless

M Sudharshan

March 26 2023

The custodian spoke about his progression, different styles of coaching and the upcoming national team assignments.

The Indian football team is set to take on the Kyrgyz Republic on 28th March at the Khuman Lampak stadium in Imphal, Manipur. The Blue Tigers defeated Myanmar (1-0) in the opening encounter. Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic played a (1-1) draw in the second encounter on March 25. It will be a stern test for the Blue Tigers as the Kyrgyz Republic are ranked 94th in the FIFA rankings.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was present in a round table conference ahead of the game against Kyrgyz Republic. Here is what the goalkeeper had to say.

Progression over the years

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has had an enviable career, holding the distinction of being the first and only player from India to play in the UEFA Europa League. The Bengaluru FC mainstay has shone between the sticks for club and country since his return to India. Gurpreet said, “I never thought as a person, as a kid, or as a player that I’ll get this far and I’ll be able to achieve what I’ve achieved. I think I have no complaints so far.

“I have been very lucky, honoured and privileged that I got to play in almost all the underage groups with the national team. I got to be a part of the national team when I was 18 in 2010. I also got to play for one of the biggest clubs in India. I got to play in Europe, and now I’m playing for, you know, the most successful club in India.

“So as a player, when you look back at it, it’s something to be very proud of, but that doesn’t mean the work stops as a player rather I am very hungry and want to win more. I want to play bigger games, play more finals, and do a lot of things with the national team.”

Best moments so far in your career

Gurpreet lists the best moments of his storied career so far, “My professional debut as a player was for East Bengal and played when Bhaichung Bhutia was still there in the club and my second professional game was the derby game against Mohun Bagan looking at a hundred thousand people in the stadium, not being able to hear anything or shout at players and making sure that communication is there is something which I remember. 

“I think with the national team, my debut was against Iran (qualification for the Asian Cup) when we played the Kyrgyz Republic and Macau at home. I’ve been very lucky to be a part of teams which have won championships. The last one, which no one knows is, we finished third in Norway, and we were a club which was written off. Yes, we were a club who were written off to be relegated in that season but we finished third and qualified for the Europa League playoff.”

“The Norway stint made me more ruthless. It made me more strong mentally because I was in a very isolated place in terms of being a professional Indian player, a professional player in Europe. So being there helped me professionally and made me a hungry player. I came back with a very good foundation in terms of my skills, hard work and the desire I have now was mainly built over there by hours and hours and days and days of gruelling training sessions.”

Differences in coaching 

India’s number one is one of the few players to have played under varied coaches and coaching styles both in India and Europe. On asked the differences he has seen and experienced, Gurpreet said, “Definitely yes and that is part of a professional career. You will always see different types of people coming in and out and coaching in and out and over there I was able to see why the European level is a notch above.

“It’s because the players that are there who are so good from a young age are parts of academies. The speed of play and the speed of thought were main in Norway. After coming back, the league (ISL) has improved so much. Even if you have an average score or if you have a very good squad like Mumbai, you will still have teams who will fight you and make it difficult for you.”

Views on the new goalkeeping rule

Earlier today, the rule for goalkeepers’ behaviour and antics in the build-up to a penalty kick were made more stringent. The latest regulations say, ” From the 1st of July, goalkeepers will no longer be allowed to taunt penalty takers in any way leading up to the kick. They cannot touch goalposts and nets, delay the execution of the penalty, unfairly distract the taker, demonstrate behaviours that fail to show respect.” Gurpreet had his say on these amendments,

“I mean, I think down the line, everyone will forget this. They will remember who won the World Cup and who lifted the golden glove in the World Cup. So I think having a penalty is already such a gift to a penalty taker that a goalkeeper has to grasp anything, which is there to make sure that the person who’s taking is under pressure.

“Obviously, that’s the style of some goalkeepers and Emiliano Martinez is one of them which worked for him. I have no doubt or no complaints about the way he was there in the penalties or the way he was acting because it all is in the mentality. That’s the mentality, that’s the ruthless mentality to make sure that he put off a player so that he is under pressure. Now, I saw this morning that the rules have changed in terms of penalties.”

“The penalty is already against a keeper. When they change the rule that a foot has to be on the line, that was something which made the life difficult of a keeper. Now with the new rules, it has made life more difficult for the keepers. The keepers will still save penalties when it comes to their way.”

Differences in playing under Stephen Constantine and Igor Stimac 

As one of the handful of players to have played under both Indian National Team head coaches Igor Stimac and Stephen Constantine, Gurpreet contrasted the two styles saying, “The first one I think we were able to achieve what we were setting out to do, which was qualifying for the Asian Cup, which hadn’t happened before in 2015. So as a team, our mindset was to be in the best possible scenario (qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup) and we did really well at the Asian Cup.

“If we had managed a little bit better, we could have qualified further as well.  Under the new regime, we have had a total shift of players, a lot of players coming in who want to play the ball a bit more and who are very attacking-minded players which is good for us.”

“Under the new coach, we have achieved our target, which is qualifying for the Asian Cup. But now as a team, we need to make sure that we can’t just stop at the Asian Cup. We need to make sure that we go even further as a team because once we are regular members of the Asian Cup, we need to make sure that we are looking to qualify further (progress from group stages).”

Preparations ahead of the Asian Cup

With some massive assignments in the form of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup and SAFF Championships coming up, Gurpreet said on the preparations, “I think we’ve had a good number of games now in the ISL season and I really hope that it continues in the next season as well.

“Now we have played two friendlies and we need to make sure that we are playing games in every single FIFA window because the more we are playing games as a team, as a national team getting together, the more it is better for us.

“So I really hope we use the upcoming year and hope to protect our players because you don’t want important players to be injured for the Asian Cup.”

“The number of games is higher. I remember the first ISL season, I played 20 games including the final and this year I have played 24 games. So I think if the trend goes on like this, and hopefully, more teams are going to come now ( Round Glass is going to be a part of the ISL as well next season). So slowly but steadily we are in the right direction in terms of the number of games.”

Thoughts on the Kyrgyz Republic team

Gurpreet opined on India’s upcoming Tri-Nation tournament opponents Kyrgyz Republic, “They are a very good team. I think the reason that result happened last night was because of Manmar with the way they fought, and the way they were showing up physically. Obviously, Kyrgyztan Republic missed a couple of chances but Myanmar played the long game.

“They waited it out, they made sure that the clean sheet was there until the end and they striked their blow and scored that cheeky goal. But again there’s no doubt about Kyrgyztan’s abilities. Their players are very good and on a good day, they can hurt teams. I think we just need to be resilient and respect their qualities. Make sure that, they as a team also feel vulnerable because every team does, they will do and make sure that we strike when we get a chance.”

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