India shot stopper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said he was impressed by the current crop of players brought together in India’s under-17 squad in preparation for the 2017 Fifa U-17 World Cup.
Sandhu, who plays in the Norwegian Tippeligaen league for Stabaek, had an opportunity to meet with the under-17 squad in June while they were on an exposure trip to Europe.
“I think the boys are very good. I think they are much better than I was and what my team was when we played in the under-16, under-17 side back in 2007.
Sandhu was also excited about the training programme organised for the junior squad which included an exposure trip to Europe to play 10 practice matches against youth teams — including the under-16 side of his own club.
“It’s really good to see that they are getting so much exposure; it’s really helping them. And they have been getting good coaching. The mentality they have is so good.
“I think all this will make them better players in the future because Indian players need that kind of mentality to compete at a higher level,” Sandhu said of his first impression of the squad.
Sandhu is currently in Mumbai, part of a 25-member squad that is preparing for India’s international friendly with Puerto Rico scheduled to take place in the city’s Shahaji Raje Sports Complex (Andheri Sports Complex) on September 3.
Having come through the AIFF’s youth development programme, Sandhu was delighted to see that many of his teammates in Mumbai were alongside him as early as the under-16 team.
“It’s a very good sight to see that the players I played alongside under Colm (Toal) sir are still with the national team.
“We had a great set up. We had a great coach back then. He built those players and he did a very good job to shape up these players — including me — to be at this level.”
Apart from the goalkeeper, Narayan Das, Pritam Kotal, Pronay Halder, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sumeet Passi, Halicharan Narzary, Germanpreet Singh, Issac Vanmalsawma, Daniel Lalhimpuia and Chinlensana Singh were the previous youth players called up by head coach Stephen Constantine for the friendly.
Apart from the training received under Colm Toal (the former head coach of youth development in India), Sandhu credited his quick rise to prominence to his development at Stabaek.
“When I went to Norway first, I wasn’t at the level needed to play. I had to make myself capable first to play at that level.
“I think I have polished all my skills. I think I have grown in all aspects of my game; mentally and physically. I think that has been the most important factor of my development.”
He also expressed that there were two main differences between training in India and Norway that contributed to his development.
“The main difference (between playing in Norway and India) is the weather, the atmosphere. It’s a bit better over there. It’s not that humid.
“The second thing is; the players you play and train with are of better quality because of which you raise your own level as well. Those are the biggest differences. There’s no problem with the intensity of the training here in India; it’s only about the atmosphere and the players we play with.”
Having made his name as the first Indian to play in a top flight European team and also the first to play in Uefa’s Europa Cup, he has set his sights higher for the future.
“The next challenge for me is to get to a higher level and try out for better clubs playing in better leagues if possible,” he said.