The shot-stopper opens up on his debut season in the top flight, his footballing idols and much more…

The I-League started on 7th January this year with two debutants: Chennai City FC and Minerva Punjab FC. While the South Indian club went on to become a mid-table side, Minerva had a forgettable season to be fair. Even then, a few players made their names in the limited chances they got against the financially-collated sides they played against.

Anirudh Thapa, Baoringdao Bodo and Arshdeep Singh were a few youngsters who stood up to the occasion and made their presence felt in the league. Khel Now caught up with young goalkeeper Singh to reflect on his first senior season with the club in the I-League.  

On being asked why things didn’t work out and this being a disappointing season for Minerva Punjab, Singh answered, “After the bidding process got completed, the news came out that our team was promoted to the I-League. It was already very late for any team to start a pre-season. We got very less time to assemble our squad. Most of the players were already committed with their teams in the Goa Pro League and the Indian Super League. Most of the players came just a few days before our first match. Next season, we’re definitely going to make a difference as we will get more time to prepare and make our team.”

The shot-stopper has backed his team to have a better second campaign in the top flight

Reasons fair enough, we believe. Also, the stage, sometimes, is too big to settle down in at the first attempt. We moved on to his footballing idols and he replied with a smile. “My father, obviously. He’s my first coach. He has served JCT for 12 years as a goalkeeper and has won the Federation Cup and the Durand Cup during his time. He is the one who inspired me to become a goalkeeper. Even today, after every match, he sits with me and discusses my mistakes.

The lineage is right there for everyone to see. We changed gears and asked him about the hot topic – ISL—and how has it been beneficial for Indian football. Singh opined, “It has changed the football scenario in India. It has taken football to a lot of new people and even put Indian football on the global map. Indian players are getting a lot of experience by playing alongside some of the best players in the world and are learning from them.”

Alongside his father, Minerva Punjab gaffer Surinder Singh has also played a key role in his development from a youth player to the team’s starting goalkeeper. About Surinder Singh he said, “We’ve been together along with some other local players from the 2nd Division to the I-League journey, through losses and wins. It has been a good experience working with him as he helps us to stay motivated in tough times and to give our best every day.”

Born in 1997, Arshdeep is just a 20-year old and facing strikers like Darryl Duffy and Sony Norde can be a huge ask. The player remembers the match distinctly and adds, “That was absolutely the biggest match of my life. I was lucky enough to start that day, thanks to our coach and Ranjit Bajaj, who had faith in my abilities. Our team played good football and fought till the end and in the end, it was just a matter of converting chances. They did that right and won. We hit the post and some good goalkeeping from Debjit Majumder saved the day for the Mariners.”

Arshdeep thinks the ISL has helped in the growth of Indian football

India, of late, has been a factory of goalkeepers. The trend started from Sodepur lad Subrata Paul, but the high standards have been set by Stabaek FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Talking about him, Singh said, “Gurpreet paaji is a true inspiration for our generation. He’s a hero of our nation. After his season got over, during his holidays, he came to train with us every day and taught us new drills and techniques. He always motivates us to give our all in every training session. In his view, young Indian players can make their way to European football with the right training, infrastructure and hard-work.”

Talking about the growth of Indian football, Singh focused on the steep rise in the FIFA rankings. “Our present ranking can prove that Indian football is growing. Things are changing at all levels – from grassroots to the senior level. Players have become more professional and are using more scientific data. With media, football is reaching out to more people in India. With ISL, football has moved closer to cricket in terms of viewership, which is a huge positive for Indian football.”

Returning to the I-League, Arshdeep said that he expected a lot of playing time, but at the same time, wants to learn from his seniors. Arshdeep and his quality prove that the future of Indian football, under the bar, is in safe hands. The player will now look to continue his good form into the ISL and gain from the massive experience he can manage in the showpiece event.