The India international has been a key figure for both club and country in recent years.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu debuted for the Indian national team back in 2015. Ten years on, he continues to remain one of the most integral players for the Blue Tigers and hence, is well-placed to assess various facets related to the squad. The Bengaluru FC ace appeared in the latest episode of Khel Now’s ‘Beyond The Scores’ podcast to speak about present head coach Igor Stimac and also the competition among multiple goalkeepers. He also touched upon the lack of quality domestic strikers in the setup and pondered on what the future holds for the Indian team.
“The kind of football (under Stimac) is different and it’s the kind of football that most of the Indian players in the squad love to play; passing out from the back, play more football, have some possession, it is something that we can do. We also have good, talented players like Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdual Samad. We have all these players who can comfortably hold the ball. To have that dynamic and versatility in the team is really good,” Sandhu stated about the playing style that the Croatian tactician is looking to implement.
Early on, the former East Bengal player had to face competition from Subrata Paul to secure a place in the playing XI. Now, the likes of Amrinder Singh, Arindam Bhattacharya among others appear to be formidable alternatives to him.
Addressing this rather healthy competition, the shot-stopper explained, “Without any of them, I can’t do well and without me, they can’t do well. That’s how goalkeepers work and that’s how the environment is. I honestly have seen the other side of it. I have waited five years for my chance. Even in club football in Norway, I was on the bench a lot. So, I know how it feels and it is something which you can either take badly or take it as an opportunity.”
He added, “The competition that we have among goalkeepers, it hasn’t been like this for a long time. Having Amrinder (Singh), Vishal Kaith, (TP) Rehenesh, we have Dheeraj (Singh Moirangthem) coming in, (Mohammed) Nawaz and Prabsukhan (Singh Gill) are there. All of these goalkeepers are so talented. It’s a good sight to see that we as a nation are producing decent goalkeepers who can do well. I am very happy to hear about their successes. I just wish them luck and ask them to push me in training because I am going to push them.”
Though there is a flurry of goalkeepers coming through the ranks, the same cannot be said about the striking department. There has been a lot of talk about the necessity of upcoming forwards who can replace Sunil Chhetri in the coming years. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu believes that there are several options for the same in the setup, but they require adequate game-time to attain significant match experience ahead of the encounters.
“It’s something that should come naturally from the system. It’s not like we can’t produce strikers. I think there are a lot of options in the setup, league, academies and so on. But, when the league and the competition starts, how many of them are playing football? They are definitely training every single day, but to be out on the pitch and have the opportunity to look at the goal and try to score, is something that I don’t think is available to every single striker from the national team,” the ex-Stabaek FC player stated.
The illustrious goalkeeper also spoke at length about the draw against Asian champions Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers in 2019. Sandhu had a critical role to play in maintaining a clean-sheet in that game, as the team managed to secure an unexpected stalemate in the absence of skipper Chhetri.
“It’s such a special game; it still makes me smile thinking about it. Because you are playing against the odds and you are without the best player from the national side and everybody kind of gives away hope,” Sandhu reflected. He added that several people believed that the Indian side will be trounced by a heavy margin against the Asian champions. “To be able to get out of the pitch with a point was absolutely amazing. In the game, you are only thinking about preventing doing a mistake which can give an opportunity to a very talented side like Qatar,” the player mentioned.
He explained, “We had discussed to not let fear creep in just because we are playing against Qatar. The ground, pitch, atmosphere, the stadium was good. It was a good opportunity to perform at your best. There was no excuse to not perform, as we were getting world-class facilities and a good team to play against. So, there shouldn’t be any excuses.” Sandhu also had an amusing reply when reminded of the clean-sheet that the Blue Tigers held on to in that match. “I was getting a lot of stick before that I hadn’t got a clean-sheet in 2019. So, I had to make sure that it was a special one,” he signed off.