Khel Now got into a candid chat with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s goalkeeping coach Espen Granli and he gave a superb insight into football, the goalkeeper and the differences in the two countries. . .

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has come a long way. The Indian International has become one of the most sought-after goalkeepers in the country and is known for his brilliant aerial prowess and ability at set-pieces. The player has been at Stabaek FC for three years now and a major role in his development has been overseen by Espen Granli, his goalkeeping coach at the Norwegian club.

Khel Now contacted the experienced man and talked about various aspects, but essentially, Gurpreet was a major point of discussion. We started off with his expectations when he first saw Gurpreet, to which the 51-year-old replied, “I saw a hard working guy who wanted to become something and he understood that hard work is the only way. With his positive mentality, good height and good reach, he was bound to go places.”

We wanted to understand the technical developments Gurpreet has made to his game over the last two years, to which the coach said, “He has improved his footwork and has become better at reading the game and the speed of play. Everything here is faster and he got his game to a higher level to match that.”

Gurpreet sharing a light moment with Ivory Coast goalkeeper Sayouba Mande and coach Espen Granli

Comparisons, any? “I can compare him to Ali Al Habsi (at 24), who I brought from Oman and his story is very similar to Gurpreet. Coming from a small footballing country and going through the same change in Norway, they have similar physical and mental attributes, with the right mentality. I don’t want him to emulate anyone. I want him to become Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.”

Former English goalkeeper and football expert John Burridge had spotted the talent of Ali Al Habsi and took him to Norway and then, to the Premier League. Similarly, Burridge spotted Gurpreet while doing commentary on the Kolkata derby in 2011 and in the training session before the high-profile game. Burridge spotted Gurpreet’s quality and took him to Stabaek, and thus, the goalkeepers share a lot in common already.

It will be a major boost for Indian football if Gurpreet reaches the heights scaled by Oman goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, who went on to play for Premier League side Wigan Athletic

Gurpreet is nearing the end of his three-year contract, and reports are rife in Norway that the 1.94m goalkeeper can move on to better adventures. We asked about the rumours and the coach advertised the same, saying, “I think he will move to bigger adventures. The way he works every day is good and he’s soon ready for that.”

Was it difficult for India’s No. 1 goalkeeper to cope up with the foreign conditions, dialect and situations? Espen Granli, with a smile, answered to this. “I think he has handled it in a very professional way. Even with the cold weather, snow and difficult conditions, it hasn’t been an issue for him and he keeps working hard. I think he has taken a step into the new culture by keeping his focus on football.”

Gurpreet’s greatest quality, according to Granli is that he’s not afraid of getting into new environments and everybody likes him. There’s no area Gurpreet needs to improve on in his game is what his coach believes, and adds that they’re working on the holistic development all the time.

“His physicality, athleticism, good reach and communication skills on the pitch are helping him to do better,” said Granli, adding to the last question. The experienced Norwegian handpicked Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as one of the best currently. Amongst the younger ones, he placed his bets on Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has matured immensely in the last three years and can become one of the first Indian players to play in the top-tier of Europe

Comparing Sayouba Mande and Gurpreet, Espen says that both are hard-working keepers who push each other every day and both of them want to become better, which makes his job easier in terms of quality improvement. Espen also added that he followed every game in which Gurpreet played for the Blue Tigers, to track his progress in International games.

We went on to the ISL and asked Granli that whether he fancies a move to the cash-rich tournament. Granli replied, “Yes, of course. I would love to work in India in the future.”

We ended the interview with a question which was very important: Do you think it is possible for Gurpreet to play in top five European leagues? Granli looked convinced and answered, “Sure, it is possible. If he keeps working  the way he is, I’m sure he will.”