Indian goalkeeper Subrata Pal received the Arjuna Award on Monday, but he has been on the fringes of the national team for a year now.
Head coach Stephen Constantine has preferred to start with younger shot-stopper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu ever since he fielded him in the World Cup qualifier against Iran on September 8. Pal has only started in two of India’s 12 matches since.
But the 29-year-old doesn’t feel hard done by the decision.
“There was a challenge before, and there is one now. Before me, there was someone who had the No 1 spot. After me, there will be someone who will have it. No one can hold his position for a lifetime,” Pal told reporters at the Andheri Sports Complex on Tuesday.
Pal rose to prominence in 2007 when his performance convinced then head coach Bob Houghton to play him instead of Sandip Nandy as the first-choice goalkeeper.
He featured prominently in the India squad that won the 2007, 2009 and 2012 editions of the Nehru Cup and the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup.
He has no problems with the 24-year-old Sandhu, who plays for the Norwegian Tippeligaen club Stabaek and was the first-choice goalkeeper when India won the 2015 SAFF Championship, for displacing him from the No 1 position.
“I respect Gurpreet because he plays and works hard outside India. I also respect the coach’s decision to play him.
The day the coach gives me a chance to start a game, I will do my best. For now, the coach has stuck with Gurpreet. If he has decided he is best for the team, it is probably right. The day I start, I will give it my 100 per cent.”
Joining the squad in Mumbai after receiving the Arjuna Award at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on the National Sports Day, Pal was happy with the conditions at the newly-renovated Andheri Sports Complex.
Pal also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his time in Delhi. “He (Modi) said if I had any advice on the development of football in India, I was free to talk. He shared his email with us, and asked us to send him the suggestions,” Pal said of his interaction with the Prime Minister.
The Sodepur-born Kolkata resident has faith that Indian football is changing for the better.
“He (Constantine) has built a young team. Our team’s average age is 24-25 years. I hope we stay together for at least another two years and achieve qualification to the 2019 Asian Cup next year. If that happens, then this group of players will play in the Asian Cup and we will perform really well.”
Out with injury
Keegan Pereira, Udanta Singh and Alwyn George returned to their clubs on Tuesday after being ruled out of the international friendly against Puerto Rico on September 3 on account of injury. All three players had been carrying injuries coming into the national camp.