Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, India’s national team goalkeeper, on Thursday made history by becoming the first from the country to play in a Uefa competition in Stabaek’s Europa League Qualifying First Round game against Connah’s Quay Nomads in Wales. While country’s football fans celebrated the feat, through social media posts late night, Gurpreet is not breaking the champagne just yet, his journey has only begun.
“I’m happy that I got a start in such a crucial game for Stabaek. But I’m not here to just make a few appearances, just to make history. That was not my goal when I moved to Europe. I know where I have to reach. Yes, I’m proud that I’m the first Indian to play in Europa League, but I have to achieve more,” said Gurpreet over the phone from Wales.
The desire to be more, and not just a passer-by in Europe, is evident when Gurpreet speaks on the injury he suffered on the right hand 30 minutes into the game, forcing him to be replaced with Stabaek’s other goalkeeper, Ivory Coast international Sayouba Mande. “I’m disappointed. The situation was such that had I played more, I could have cemented my spot. On Monday, after the training session, where we played a friendly and had a clean sheet, the coach (Billy McKinlay) told me that he would like to keep the same line-up for the match.”
“But in the game, I tried to punch a cross, and instead struck the opposition player’s head. I don’t think my timing was wrong. He was on an offside position, and came from my blind side. It is disappointing,” he added.
Though the full extent of the injury will be known only after an X-Ray scan on Friday evening, Gurpreet is apprehensive. “I don’t know, I’m not very positive. It doesn’t look good. This was a brilliant time for me, had it stayed like that I could have achieved much more. But injuries are part of the game,” he added.
The disappointment is understandable, considering after almost two seasons of an understudy’s role to first choice goalkeeper Mande, things were finally falling into place for Gurpreet. Those unfamiliar surroundings, the necessity to learn cooking, the need to share an apartment with a Georgian teammate in what is an expensive country to live, and all the struggles on the pitch were bit frustrating in the early days. The want of proper training in India before diving into the cold waters of Norway did not help either.
But Gurpreet persevered. “Everything was difficult. But I worked hard. I was committed. Of course, I want to play more games and it was normal to be frustrated. But on the other hand, you need to make yourself capable. Sayoubu, with his history at the club – he has been here for over four years – and experience was the first choice. I don’t compare myself with anyone, but now I can say, I can do better than him.
“For two years I have worked as hard as him, if not more. The difference, from when I first came here and now is clear. He knows what he is up against,” Gurpreet added.
Gurpreet’s primary objctive now would be recover as soon as possible, though much of that is out of his hands. Besides the Norwegian league matches, at least a few of which he might miss, Stabaek are to play the reverse leg of the Europa League qualifying against Nomads at home on July 7. “I’m not so confident if I’ll be fit by then. But I am hoping we make it through the stage.”
If they do, Gurpreet could potentially get the opportunity to play against more prominent clubs such as Dinamo Minsk and Shamrock Rovers.
The European stage also offers him the possibility of a transfer. Though he has made his mark at Stabaek, Gurpreet hasn’t fully taken to the life in Norway – ‘It would be comfortable if I were paid like Ronaldo,’ he jokes. Much of his free time is spent indoors, on PS3 and sitcoms. His greater ambitions also mean, Norway is a halt, not the destination.
“Yes, scouts do come to the games. I hope I can show my potential,” he said.