The India international shot stopper talked about the national team’s AFC Asian Cup campaign, the proposed ISL & I-League merger and more.

The wall of the Indian National Football Team and Red Bull athlete, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was in Kolkata on Wednesday to promote Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five Futsal tournament, the finals of which were held on the 17th April in Kolkata. Khel Now had the opportunity to sit down with Gurpreet and discuss his thoughts and opinions on a wide spectrum of questions, to pick his mind on the questions that arise in Indian football, European football and even on a personal level.

The interview began with asking Gurpreet how it felt being a Red Bull athlete and being involved with the promotion of sports in India at the grass roots level. Gurpreet frankly answered that it was less about a formal partnership and more about doing the necessary things to send out the right message through events like these. “I’m very lucky and proud to be a member of this family, it’s been more than a year and hopefully it will continue for a long time.”

‘I used to play for fun, I mean I still do’, a candid Gurpreet replied when asked about what inspired him to take up football. He also revealed how he seriously considered a career in professional football for the first time when he got selected for the U-16 national team.

Sandhu revealed he used to watch Edwin van der Sar, Gianluigi Buffon along with Indian keepers such as Subrata Paul, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury and Arindam Bhattacharya

“That’s when I got an idea of how football works in India, the structure, the league, the teams, the national team. Before that I didn’t watch or you know, interact with much football off the pitch. I used to play for my state team and everything, but I didn’t watch or follow Indian football seriously. But training, playing with the [U-16] national team, you know, that’s when I realised I wanted to be a footballer.”

“While growing up I did not watch a lot of football, but after I joined the U-16, I started watching more football, I used to follow Edwin van der Sar, Gigi Buffon especially because they were so tall and were of the same build as me. I also used to watch Subrata [Paul] bhai, Shubhashish [Roy Chowdhury] bhai, Arindam [Bhattacharya] bhai because I kind of wanted to be like them. They’re really good and that’s when I started emulating the good in them.”

Talking about top goalkeepers in the world, some of whom are still plying their trade to this day, Sandhu was asked whom does he think is the best goalkeeper currently, of which he answered after thinking for a while, “In terms of experience and having a wonderful career, I’d say Gigi Buffon, but right now, I think Jan Oblak.”

The Bengaluru FC custodian became the first Indian to play in the UEFA Europa League during his time in Norway with Stabaek. Despite the achievement, he chose to return to India to play for Bengaluru FC. “My VISA expired, so they asked me to return back”, he joked first.

“What actually happened was I wanted to play and that opportunity at Stabaek wasn’t very clear to me and I wanted to take the next step in my career. That’s when I started to explore options in Europe and there were a couple which were almost similar to the level in Norway. There were some which were, you know, beneath the level, for instance, in Azerbaijan. That was something I didn’t want to do, take a step down.”

Sandhu became the first Indian to play in the UEFA Europa League with Stabaek

“I had an opportunity to go to Portugal with Boavista but the things didn’t work out with them, I’m still not clear what happened exactly with the contract and everything going back and forth and I had only one week to make a decision with the window closing soon.”

“That’s when Bengaluru came into the equation. There were a lot of other ISL teams as well but Bengaluru FC was the most convincing because of their amazing setup and that the club stands for a wonderful image in Indian football and because I wanted to play in the AFC Cup competitions. The initial plan was to go to BFC on loan for a year and then move to Portugal, but it didn’t work out but I’m glad I get to play for Bengaluru now.”

When asked about the level of detail and intricacies in match preparations, tactical analyses, training in Indian football as compared to Europe, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was full of praise for his ISL club. “With BFC, I can say, it’s up there.”

“The only difference is with the training centre and the atmosphere, everything else, the setup, the way we train, everything is right up there.”

Talking about playing in the AFC Asian Cup, The India international was asked if playing defensive cost the Blue Tigers, Sandhu answered, “We were too scared to lose the game. I think that cost us the game. It was the mentality. We didn’t go in with that passive thinking, but once you enter the field, I think it automatically creeps into your psyche because the stakes were so high. I think that and the fact that we didn’t create much chances offensively, you know, we were too busy containing Bahrain, trying to defend.”

The India international shot-stopper feels the Blue Tigers were ‘too busy’ trying to contain Bahrain

The 27-year-old also talked about the situation in the dressing room after the game against Bahrain. “I personally felt that we have arrived and we can obviously do better, we can play better, we can give these teams hard time, we didn’t make it easy for Thailand, we didn’t make it easy for UAE. There is also a certain factor of luck and what happens in the moment but putting up that show that India is not a team to be taken lightly, so there was satisfaction about that.

“Of course, there was considerable disappointment too but we were optimistic that, you know, we’ll come back and make sure we progress further the next time. Now is the time where the road to Asian Cup begins again.”

Gurpreet was asked about the burning question that if the club football in India is headed in the right direction as well as his opinion on the proposed ISL & I-League merger. The shot stopper spoke from experience and suggested that he would want to play in a league which has a good number of teams and have promotion and relegation.

‘Because that gives the teams a purpose to play so I’m pretty sure the people who are up there deciding this, they are working hard. You cannot just wake up one day and change the entire landscape of club football in the nation, it will obviously take time so I’m pretty sure that they are trying their best.’

He was quick to praise the rise of passionate football fanbases in the country. ‘Six, seven years ago, the only place you could see fans in that number was in Kolkata, people coming to the stadiums and supporting loyally.’ He also believes that it was after the inception of BFC that the organised fan culture in India started taking shape.

‘Chants, banners, filling the stadiums, that wasn’t happening before. It has been amazing so far, there were so many games where the fans got us through with their desire and energy and vocal support. It makes it really special.’

He also lauded the efforts of the West Block Blues and the Blue Pilgrims who were in massive number supporting the national team in Qatar. ‘Their effort rubs off on the players and the players want to deliver to the fans. You want to win it for them.’

Talking about the eternal question, who is better between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Gurpreet looked confident while voicing his opinion.

Sandhu feels Lionel Messi is on a different level than Cristiano Ronaldo

“Let me set the record straight. Messi is, you know, he’s Messi. You cannot describe him, you cannot quantify him, he is something else entirely. Cristiano is the most hardworking and obsessed individual that I can think of but Messi, you know, I don’t even know what to say about him. He makes the Champions League looks like it’s FIFA at amateur level. Players dropping their heads, giving up, losing clues in front of him.”

Gurpreet shared his thoughts on the template for modern day goalkeepers. ‘The obvious skills that include agility, reflexes, strong saving and diving aside, the difference between a great goalkeeper and an average goalkeeper comes to light without the saves, how do you contribute to your team, how to avoid certain situations, how to communicate and help organise your defence.’

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my career and in my life. Barcelona fans asking for my shirt and I can say this even when I’m 60,” Gurpreet replied with a smile when asked about the friendly Bengaluru played against Barcelona B in Spain.

“Playing against Barcelona, be it the B team, so close to the Camp Nou, the Miniestadi where all the legends grew up playing, it was something else.”

The shot-stopper spoke exclusively to Khel Now at the Neymar 5s finals in Kolkata

When asked about how Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was off-the-field, he candidly revealed that travelling takes up a lot of his time. He’s had the first proper holiday in 3 years this time around and he meant to spend it with his family. He also loved driving a lot. ‘I’m just trying to soak in as much as possible before the season begins again.’

Gurpreet’s agent also shed light on the fact that the Punjabi keeper loved sketching and that apart from football, he liked to cook as well, he enjoyed the daily chores of home because it is something he had to get accustomed to while living alone in Norway.

‘Very lonely’, Gurpreet described that life in Norway was very difficult for him but he considered himself lucky to be with the kind of players he shared time with. “We had like nine or eleven international players there and gelling up with all of them was, you know, easy.

“The entire experience made me feel very lonely at times because there are not many Indians in Norway and you’re the only Indian player outside India, so that got to me at times.”


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‘If there’s an opportunity out there that is suitable for me, I would consider it,’ Gurpreet spoke about the plausible scenario of him returning to Europe. “If it asks too much of me, compromising on my playing time then I’m not up for it. The circumstances have changed so much, I’m 27 now, I want to play and make sure I contribute as much as possible to my team and right now, my team is BFC.”

Gurpreet picked the time he wore the national armband where India routed Thailand 4-1 in the first group stage fixture in the Asian Cup as his favourite footballing memory, a moment that was going to stay with him for a long, long time despite not many people not taking the note that he captained the National Team on that night. “My debut is up there, but captaining the team in a continental victory after 55 years, the people may not remember, but I obviously will.”

“I hope Sunil bhai doesn’t retire any time soon because it’s so much fun to have him around and he’s the kind of person that holds the entire structure of the team together and it will be very difficult to make peace with it if he retires,” Gurpreet had a lot of affection and admiration for his BFC captain and national teammate Sunil Chhetri.

“If you want to be one of those teams that want to go to the World Cup, you need to be competitive in the Asian Cup, it’s as simple as that. I think our target should be realistic- to reach the level of top 10 sides in Asia and then the top five and slowly, to reach the World Cup,” Gurpreet was down to Earth, yet optimistic in his assessment of the challenges that lie ahead of the national team within the next five years.

The interview ended with a fun question on the European title challenge where Gurpreet Singh Sandhu picked Liverpool as the side to go all the way in the Champions League.