FOX Sports Asia interviews India and Bengaluru FC keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
It’s been quite a couple of weeks for Indian football with the national team qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup for just the second time in three decades and with domestic heavyweights, Bengaluru FC, in the semifinals of the AFC Cup. Perhaps more importantly though, the nation is hosting the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup that has drawn the attention of the world to one of Asia’s fastest developing football countries.
One player who has been at the heart of the action is India’s star goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who has just returned from a trailblazing three-year stint in Europe to shine for both the national team and Bengaluru.
The 25-year-old sat down this week for a chat with FOX Sports Asia where he touched on the need for the domestic leagues to keep expanding, his goals for the 2019 Asian Cup and what it was like to play for his club in North Korea just as that rogue nation launched its latest missile test.
FOX Sports Asia (FSA): Gurpreet, thanks for speaking with Fox Sports Asia: the national team is in the midst of a brilliant run of form with an undefeated span of 12 matches stretching back to March last year and having this week secured qualification for the Asian Cup – it must be a great time to be part of the national squad, no?
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GS): Touch wood, everything has been going well to be honest and that’s purely down to the hard work of the players and the staff. At the beginning of the campaign when we played the World Cup qualifiers and we lost four or five games in that everyone was asking questions and that was the moment when the boys stuck together and decided that we will bounce back.
It was a combination of everything and there were things that we had to improve on and by making mistakes you can only learn so we did make mistakes and we still do but we make them less often now.
We knew that it would take time but we had belief and sure enough things have turned and it’s a really good dressing room to be in now.
FSA: It’s a huge moment for India to be back on the continental stage at the Asian Cup; for you and the other squad members what should be the minimum target.
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) October 11, 2017
GS: For starters, getting to the Asian Cup was our aim and as a developing nation in football our aim is to qualify for that every time and not be left behind because we know that other nations are improving every year.
We need to be ready to make targets that are achievable so whilst getting there was one the next one is to do well at the Asian Cup.
Hopefully we get a decent group and by 2019 we can keep improving but if everything clicks and we play well then getting out of the group stages will be one of the targets.
We failed in the last Asian Cup in 2011 and I hope we can improve because we have a bunch of boys who have good belief and our recent results show that we can do well both home and away and we need to use that confidence to help us.
FSA: It’s a huge moment for Indian football at the moment with the leagues garnering plenty of attention but more importantly with the nation hosting the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup where there have been good crowds and some solid showings from India even though they didn’t progress – have you been impressed by the tournament?
GS: It’s a very important moment for us and we’re lucky that we got such an opportunity because football needs to be pumped up in our country and nothing is enough at the moment because we are a developing nation in football and this will really help.
The Indian team did well and the results in some games were not bad even though I wish they could have done better but as everyone sees they have the capability to do better. I was impressed with the goalkeeper but also several other players to and they have the ability to keep on getting better.
FSA: Looking at your own personal story, you’ve really been a trailblazer for Indian football having spent three years in Europe with Stabaek and then created history by having a domestic club pay a transfer to bring an Indian player back home so what did you learn during those years in Norway and why the decision to return to Bengaluru FC?
GS: I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to Europe even though I never thought it would happen to be honest. So getting that opportunity and then staying there for three years was a very important time for me and I improved as both a person and a player but coming back to India was a very difficult decision to be honest.
I wanted to stay in Europe and tried to find some options but if you don’t find the right option then you take the second best option but coming back to a club like Bengaluru is very important because game time was on my mind and I’ve already played three games already and they haven’t been easy so it’s great to be getting game time and I’ll do everything I can to help the team.
FSA: Of course, you have a massive game coming up next week with the second leg of your AFC Cup semifinal after the first leg finished 1-0 in Tajikistan against Istiklol – what are you thoughts ahead of this huge match?
GS: Coming in the middle of the season and playing straight away in the knockout stages is very difficult. We did well in our last matches in North Korea and we were a bit unlucky away in Tajikistan. They’re a good team and that’s why they’ve come this far but we’re surely going to give them a good fight at home and get the result that we need as we never give up at Bengaluru.
FSA: Looking at that recent experience in North Korea when you played the April 25 side what was that experience like given that it came at a very tense time politically and you were actually in the country when they launched a missile.
GS: It was a very strange place to be in at a very strange time but we were there to do a job but in the end we had to stay a couple of days extra and sure it was very strange to hear the missile go off and go overhead and it scares you but it made me realise that we are so lucky to be in a country where you have everything, freedom and other things that are not available over there.
The country itself was also an experience: they checked our baggage very thoroughly at the airport but there are only two flights a day that come in and they finish at five o’clock so something happened with our luggage where that didn’t arrive so we had to wait until the next day for that to arrive so it certainly wasn’t easy.
FSA: Focusing on the domestic club scene with all this talk of the two competitions in the I-League and the ISL, what are your thoughts on the best way forward for Indian club football?
GS: I think as a player you want first of all to play a longer league and it doesn’t matter if we call that the ISL or the I-League or whatever but we want to play in a league that has 14 or so teams and you play every weekend over eight or nine months and that’s what I want.
It has changed a bit with ten teams in the ISL and I hope the numbers go up and it’s very important to have a system where you have a first division, a second division and a third division that all follow the same rules just like in Europe with promotion and relegation.
These are simple things and it’s not that hard to do if you find a good system so I hope we keep expanding and gaining more teams every year.
FSA: Finally, you’re playing the ‘lonely’ position in goal – where you always a keeper growing up and who were or are the players that you admire in that position?
GS: It’s always been between the posts for me and especially with my height everyone says naturally if you see someone tall then they stand between the posts.
I grew up watching Edwin van der Sar and some of Oliver Kahn and now I like to watch Gigi Buffon, who’s an absolute legend, and also David de Gea.