I feel privileged to be the first Indian to play in the top flight in Europe and I hope my example can inspire other youngsters to seek challenges overseas…
In India, growing up as a child you cannot help but be influenced by cricket. It is a sport that touches one and all in some way or another and I was no different. My career in football was not by design. I feel it was the game that chose me and not the other way around.
I joined St. Stephen’s Academy in 2000 for football training and although I enjoyed my time there my career in football began well after my stint at the academy concluded. To be selected for the India Under-16 side was a key turning point. Indeed it is at this point that I truly started considering a career in football. Like most goalkeepers I too ended up between the sticks not by choice, but simply because I was much taller than kids my age when I took up the sport.
I thought about playing professional football only during my India U16 days.
From then things have moved fast and a lot has happened in a relatively short span of time. I try not to think too much about it. I have stayed as grounded as ever and try to focus on my game and becoming the best I can be. For the rest, I trust that it will fall into place as it has done so far.
It was exciting to sign my first professional contract with a big club like East Bengal. But I wasn’t expecting to get first-team football at the time. In fact, I joined them as they had a good goalkeeping coach and I felt I could do with organized and supervised training on a daily basis. I was enthusiastic to join Bob Houghton’s setup at Indian Arrows and although I didn’t play much due to national commitments I feel the loan spell was well-timed and fruitful. When I came back I played in the 2011 Indian Super Cup Final where we beat Salgaocar FC on penalties. That performance caught the eye of the EB management and there was no looking back thereafter.
The 2011 Indian Super Cup Final changed my stature in the East Bengal dressing room after we won on penalties.
My time in Kolkata was thoroughly enjoyable and of course my performances there helped secure this once-in-a-lifetime move to Europe. But, it was disappointing not to have won the I-League as I firmly believe we had the squad to do it.
My short stint with Wigan Athletic under Roberto Martínez taught me that what I need to do to become a better footballer.
In 2012, an opportunity arose for me to join Wigan Athletic in England. All I had to do was to convince East Bengal to let me go. But, unfortunately we could not reach an agreement and the move fell through. Nonetheless, I am grateful to everyone there who helped me grow as a player and as a person.
It has now been nearly two years with Stabæk here in Norway. It has been a greatly enriching and fun experience. I’m trying to make the most of it. I’m adapting to life here. But, I only step out of the house for training or when the team wants to have a meal together. Otherwise I like to keep to myself.
I don’t make much of the fact that I’m the first Indian to play in the top flight in Europe. But it’s a privilege and I think the only way Indian football is going to progress is when we have more and more players playing around the world.
In the midst of all this, it was a proud moment to win my first India cap last year against Iran. It always feels special to put on the Blue Tigers’ kit. I want to continue playing for the country and doing my best to help the team.
Playing for India always gives me a special feeling..
My time here has been transformational. It has been quite a giant leap for me physically and mentally coming from East Bengal to Norway and I’m glad it happened. It has made me a better player. There is a huge difference in the standard. The players you face and play with are of a higher level. The coaching is better. Weather is better. Facilities are better.
I have had to bide my time here. Opportunities in the first team have been hard to come by and there is a lot of good competition for places in the team. But, I have made the most of my league starts so far and other chances in the cup competitions. To be part of the cup run last season was amazing.
Now we are preparing for the Europa League Qualifying Round game against Connah’s Quay Nomads. It will be a tough game in Wales, but we have the second leg at home and hopefully we can use the home crowd to our advantage and progress from the tie. I don’t know whether I will get the chance to play. It is up to the coach. But, being in the Europa League is another exciting chapter for both me and the club. It’s a reward for the hardwork of the team and we are all looking forward to it.
Being in the Europa League is another exciting chapter for both me and the club..
As I reflect I could not have asked for more in the way my career has panned out so far. I have fond memories. But, I’m only 24. I still have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to the challenges of the future. This is a unique experience and I try to make the most of every day. It is hard to put my finger on anything in particular that has changed, but I feel all of it has. I try to stay disciplined and keep doing the things that have worked for me. This adventure has made me more rounded as a player and I have matured as a person. I hope to be here as long as I’m needed. I want to play as many games as possible which will help both me and the team.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is an Indian International playing club football for Tippeligaen club Stabæk Fotball . You can like his Facebook page and follow his Twitter Profile .