The shot-stopper spoke ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Puerto Rico in Mumbai….

The first Indian player ever to play in the UEFA Europa League Gurpreet Singh Sandhu feels National Coach Stephen Constantine has been successfully able to make an impact on ‘character building’ within the squad.

“His leadership skills are exceptional. He stresses on character building which is beneficial for us. It helps the players become mentally stronger,” Gurpreet told a packed media interaction at the Andheri Sprts Complex on Wednesda afternoon.

“It’s very important for the team to go through the transition phase. You need to look forward and have a long term plans. That’s what Constantine’s vision is,” he maintained. “My International debut against Asia’s No. 1 team Iran has been the most memorable moment for me so far.”

Gurpreet also reflected on the number of players who have graduated from the AIFF Youth Development setup to the senior team. “I think it’s a very good sign to play that so many of us who played under Colm Toal are presently in the national team. We had a great setup and he was a great coach. He has done so much to get us uoto this level,” the keeper commented.

Besides Sandhu, Narayan Das, Pritam Kotal, Pronay Halder, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sumeet Passi, Halicharan Narzary, Germanpreet Singh, Issac Vanmalsawma, Daniel Lalhimpuia, Chinlensana Singh (from the present assembled squad) have all been groomed by Toal from their U-16 days at the AIFF Youth Development setup.

In addition, Udanta Singh who was released because of an injury was one of Colm’s trainees while Vinit Rai has been part of the AIFF academy setup.

Speaking about his stint in Norway, Sandhu mentioned that playing and training with better players has really helped him improve his game.

“The weather and the atmosphere in Norway is better. It isn’t humid. The players you play and train with are of a higher quality. That makes you a better player too by allowing you to raise your levels,” he explained. “It is an uphill battle for me as I lost my spot in the team after my injury nut I won’t shy away from the challenge,” Gurpreet stated.

“I never thought that I would be reaching this point where I would be playing in Europe. It is a dream come true for me and I’m proud to have done what I have done – representing India at that level,” he opined. “I have grown as a player in all aspects of my game and polished all my skills.”

“It’s very important for me to challenge myself. I have achieved so much so far. My aim was to break into the first team and play in the league. Personally, I want to try to play at a higher level and in better leagues and clubs.”

The game is the first official international match to be played in Mumbai since 1955 and the first time a team from CONCAF will be playing in India. “Puerto Rico are a good side as per the rankings. But we are ready for the battle and will give everything on the field. We should play more teams like them to build our confidence,” said Sandhu

“I am very pleased with the facilities over here. The ground is good. In fact, we need stadia like this in India which are not that big and where the pitch is closer to the stands.”

Gurpreet also congratulated Arjuna awardee teammate Subrata Paul saying he has “learnt certain things” from the ‘Spiderman.’ “I have been with Subrata since 2010 which was the first time I was in the national squad. There are certain things which I have learnt from him,” he admitted. “He fully deserves the Arjuna Award. I still feel he received it a bit late.”

Sandhu also spoke on the different in approach to goalkeeping in Norway and with the national team, to which he has to adapt constantly.“Goalkeeping techniques differ from coach to coach. The kind of training I get there is as per the Norwegian league, in accordance with what is required from a keeper playing in Norway. When I report to the national camp it’s different because we have a different coach with a different technique. It helps me a lot personally as it allows me to build on two different things.”

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