The Kiwi international became the first Indian-origin player to feature for FC Bayern Munich.
Back in 2018, when a young New Zealand side came to India to participate in the Intercontinental Cup, Indian football fans were curious about one name in the visiting squad, that of Sarpreet Singh.
The Indian-origin midfielder showed immense potential and also notched up an assist against the Blue Tigers, as the All Whites ended up being the only team to defeat India in the tournament. However, Singh made an everlasting mark in the hearts of football fans from the sub-continent.
Born in Auckland to Indian parents, Singh went to the Onehunga Sports Centre to learn the basics of the game. He attracted interest from Premier League outfit Everton during his youth days. However, Singh joined the Wellington Phoenix Academy in 2015 owing to his impressive performances with the New Zealand U-17 side.
On his childhood and early days as a footballer
“My footballing journey has been a great one so far. I have enjoyed the ride. So, it basically started out in Auckland, where I went through some academy programs. When I was about 15, I decided to move down to Wellington to join the only professional club in the country, Wellington Phoenix. I played as many games as possible and also had a good U-20 World Cup and was picked by Bayern,” said the 20-year-old attacking midfielder over a conference call with Indian journalists.
“My parents are from Punjab; there is a little village called Sardarkot near Malpur. Growing up in an Indian family was no different as I did the same things. I have been back to India three times and it is good to come back to your roots. I still love my mum’s food and can speak Punjabi as well,” Sarpreet recalled about his roots in India and how it was growing up.
He then worked hard for his first professional contract and finally achieved it in 2017, as he penned a three-year deal with the Nix. He was part of the first-team setup midway through the 2017-18 season and carried his form into the following campaign. His impressive performances in the A-League and for his national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which happened in Poland, caught the eye of Bayern Munich scouts.
On his experience in India in the Intercontinental Cup 2018
A 19-year old Sarpreet had a wonderful time in Mumbai when the Kiwis participated in the Intercontinental Cup 2018. He assisted a goal against India while scored one against Kenya. Talking about it, he said, “We came over with the New Zealand national team to play in India, which was quite special, being from both backgrounds.”
“It was a good game. India won that tournament, so they did well. I look to keep in touch (with Indian football) when I can. There are a few boys that I know, that I’ve played with, who play in India now. I keep in contact with them and they tell me about the league. For me, its good to see Indian football improving.”
On Roy Krishna and David Williams
Singh shares a great bond with the current ATK strike duo of Roy Krishna and David Williams, as they were at Phoenix with him last season. On being asked about the duo who are currently plying their trade in India, the youngster added, “Roy (Krishna) was the best player of the A-League last season and Willo (David Williams) was his strike partner. They are a deadly duo. I think they take the standards to a higher level being foreigners in India and it is good for the local players to keep striving and keep getting better.
“They are great players and better professionals. Roy to me was like an elder brother at Wellington, as he gave me advice and I tried learning as much as possible. Even today, I’m in contact with both of them and from what they tell me it (ISL) is a good league. The professionalism is high and it is pleasing to hear things like that.”
Sarpreet Singh in action against Arsenal
On his time at FC Bayern Munich
Singh had a very eventful pre-season, where he impressed the then head coach Niko Kovac with his performances against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan. Those earned him a spot on the bench for Bayern’s DFL Super Cup clash against Borussia Dortmund.
Since then, Singh has mainly played in the 3. Liga with the Bayern Munich II side, for whom he has made 15 appearances, mustering four goals and seven assists. He has also made his way to the bench for a handful of Bundesliga games.
However, his biggest moment yet came when the 20-year-old attacking midfielder replaced Philippe Coutinho in the last few minutes of the match, as the Bavarians led 6-1 against Werder Bremen. Singh became the second New Zealand international to play in the Bundesliga after Wynton Rufer. He then followed it up with involvement in the Champions League home match against Tottenham Hotspur.
“The coach is never going to tell you who is going to come on before the game. For me, it was like any other game I play and I took preparations accordingly. I do not change my routine for a big game, as I want to be consistent. It was a dream come true for me, someone who comes from an Indian background. It was a special moment and hopefully, I can inspire the next generation of kids to work harder and push for bigger and better things,” Sarpreet recollected the magic moment of his Bundesliga debut.
The youngster is a part of an exciting contingent at Bayern
On the difference between Bayern and Wellington
Blessed with exquisite ball-control and great vision, the midfelder is destined to go a long way in world football and this is just the start for the youngster. When quizzed about the difference in the environment at Bayern to that at Wellington, Singh pointed out how at Bayern, it is more about taking care of your body on and off the field.
“Basically, I have learnt what it takes to be a professional at this level. These players do not become who they are without hard work. So, to be able to learn from some of the world’s best players is very special and I continue to work hard and try to be like them. To watch them in the change room and watch them play games is a dream come true. I am here now and I have to push and compete with them. So, I try and learn as much as possible.”
“I look at the minute details of how they do things. If I am looking at Coutinho, I look at what he does in tight spaces and how he scans his shoulders and gets out of tight situations. I play in a similar position and there’s nobody better than him to learn things from.”
“Bayern are one of the best and biggest clubs in the world. But, I am grateful to both, as Wellington showed me the way I need to do things. When I joined Bayern, I saw how everything is a lot more specific as to what you need to do before and after training, how you eat and everything you need to do as a professional footballer.”
On adapting to life in Germany and Bundesliga
It has been tough to stay away from his family in a new country, new league and among new people. So, Singh was quick to mention two players who have helped him settle in Germany. He added, “I think Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry are very good to me and they helped me to adapt. Even today, they gave me advice and they are quite easy to talk to. That has allowed me to settle in this environment. For me, these two players have helped me here.”
“Yes, it is important for me to learn German and I take lessons thrice a week. I feel it is important for me to learn the language to settle in the culture and with the people. I have started understanding a bit,” he opined about learning the language.
The Bundesliga title race has been very tight this season, with RB Leipzig in pole position and the record champions, Bayern, just behind them separated by a point. However, Singh feels that the team should not look elsewhere and focus more on winning each game hereon.
“We focus on what we can do and for me, it is just about Bayern. We are a big club and we need to win every game. I don’t look around too much, as I said we need to keep moving.”
On being a role model
On being asked whether his move to Bayern Munich can inspire young Indian and Kiwi kids to take up the sport and make it big in Europe, Singh was positive as he asserted, “Certainly, it can show the way and it is possible. It comes down to how bad you want it. For sure, there are lot of Indian players who are good and can get this opportunity.
“It is just about trusting the process and sticking to your routine day-in day-out for years. It is certainly possible and from what I hear from Roy (Krishna) and Willo (David Williams), the facilities are getting better and they do similar training as the way we do in Europe. Hopefully, I can be a good example for kids in India and New Zealand.”
On his personal life, his hobbies and Cricket
Speaking on things other than football, he revealed his favourite Punjabi musician as he said, “Mostly during my time in New Zealand, I used to listen to a lot of Punjabi music. Jazzy B, he is my favourite. I listen to him a lot. I respect his music a lot. I saw him perform in Auckland.”
Singh also shared how he grew up in a sporting environment in New Zealand. He said, “When you are in New Zealand you play a lot of sports. I used to play everything before coming to Europe. Here it is difficult for me to keep track of everything.”
Considering his Indian-origin he also revealed how he idolizes Indian cricketers in Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar. “Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar are my favourites in Indian cricket. They are incredible sportsmen and they have represented the country for so many years. So, when I watch cricket I like these two.”