Oslo-born Norwegian PIO (Person of Indian Origin) Harmeet Singh elicited interest from some of Europe's top football clubs before he chose to sign for Dutch giants Feyenoord last summer. In 2010, he scored against Barcelona.
Speaking to HT over the phone from Rotterdam, the 22-year-old midfielder spoke of his struggle to overcome social biases in Norway, his "Punjabi" upbringing and whether he would want to play for India.
Did you face obstacles when you started out because of your roots?
I started playing football when I was 5. Ronaldo and (Zinedine) Zidane were my earliest heroes. As a kid I could never sit still…There was a football ground about 100 metres from my house and after school I would play still sun down. I think when you have ethnic roots and name that isn't a typically Norwegian, they underestimate you, so you have to work 10 times harder than, for example, a white boy with Norwegian roots to get the credit. I still feel it's that way now. I never had to endure racism in Norway, but as I said they underestimate your ability because of your name!
Can you shed some light on your childhood?
I had a very Punjabi childhood. When I was at home or with my Indian and Pakistani friends we would talk in Punjabi. From a young age my parents would take me to the Gurudwara every Sunday, and even know when I'm in Norway I go the Gurudwara. I also used to attend Punjabi tuitions in Norway. As a youngster I also listened to Bhangra music and my favorite artist was Jazzy B.
Feyenoord have a tradition of flying new signings into the De Kuip Stadium in a helicopter. Can you describe that? Also are you happy with the limited playing time you've got this season?
That moment was special, I knew that Feyenoord was a big club, but when I arrived in that helicopter and looked at the people around in the Kuip I understood how big it really is. As a footballer you want to play every game, but patience is also a virtue. It's great that I can learn from legends like Ronald Koeman (Feyenoord coach and ex-Barcelona stalwart) and Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord assistant coach and former Dutch captain).
Have you ever been approached by the AIFF to play for India?
Not yet. If it does, then maybe I'll take it more seriously. Right now I'm focussing on the U-21 European Championships with Norway.
You were praised by Barca's then coach Pep Guardiola after you scored against them. How did it add to your confidence?
Barcelona has been my favourite team since childhood. When Guardiola praised me I I felt really humbled. I said to myself that 'I'm doing something right and I´m on the right track'.