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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

‘We were not organised but now we are improving’: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Arjuna award recipient, India’s goal-keeper Gulpreet Singh Sandhi is not only a force to reckon with under the bars but he also has the ability to dissect the field with a long ball and find his teammate at the other half.

football Updated: Aug 30, 2019 19:11 IST
Rudraneil Sengupta
Rudraneil Sengupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gurpreet receives the Arjuna from President Ram Nath Kovind
Gurpreet receives the Arjuna from President Ram Nath Kovind(PTI)
         

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will keep you safe. With his 6 foot 5 inch height, and more when you add his reach, he will get to the ball. With his natural composure, he will organise the defence. With his excellent reading of the game, he will not only snatch the ball from the air from a set piece, but also dissect the field with a long ball and find his teammate at the other half.

India’s goalkeeper of choice will have to find a way to make all those qualities work for him, and dig deeper for more in the next two months. The national team embarks on their world cup qualification campaign with matches against Oman, ranked 87 in the world (India are 103) on September 5 at Guwahati, before facing Asian champions Qatar, who beat Japan in February to win the title, on September 10. On October 15, India will play Bangladesh. 

The Bengaluru FC and India keeper spoke to Hindustan Times after receiving the Arjuna Award in New Delhi.

Edited excerpts:

Only 25 footballers have won the Arjuna before you. You are the 26th. How does it feel?

Feels pretty incredible. It’s such an honour. It gives me immense pride, and I’m very fortunate to receive this award.

A very crucial couple of months before you—the world cup qualification first round. Oman up first. And you are a new team, under new coach Igor Stimac. Do you feel settled?

I think we are more settled now if we compare it with when we played the King’s Cup (in June). Because it’s not easy, with a new team, a new coach, to implement a new style of play and give that experience to new players. It’s very different when you play on the international stage. Those (three-four) months were very important for the team to grow and I think that the boys, in terms of the little bit of experience under the new coach, are ready to go against Oman.

Stimac has changed the way India plays, bringing in a more passing, possession-based game.

It’s been exciting—because most of the clubs now play a similar kind of football. Goa, or Bengaluru, even Delhi, Jamshedpur…so the boys know how to do this. Some of the new boys are very good technically. It’s all about getting the confidence, and repeating the process again and again every single day. We used to not be very compact or organized, but we are absorbing attacks as a team much more now. The team has got more compact, having that awareness of who is where, and taking responsibility.

But it can be difficult for you, as a goalkeeper, when you have to work with new central defenders. How crucial is it to communicate and control your defense?

It can be a difficult task. When you have a new face in defence it can be hard to help them because sometimes they can go into a zone—say you are representing India for the first time, or you are back in the team after a long time, you tend to go under pressure.

Every time I play, or train, communication is very important between me and the defenders. What I try to do is make them aware of situations so they can avoid it. It’s about the right message. If I say too much, they may block me out. I have to be very sharp, and very precise about the details I have to communicate.

Arsene Wenger once said that the goalkeeper is like a camera behind the team…

True. That’s coming from a very high level. He is very right. As a goalkeeper you see the way players are moving, the way the ball is being passed, and sometimes you get an idea of what will happen next, and you try and control that. But sometimes you can’t. If you are getting too involved in what’s going to happen infront of you, you tend to lose focus on what you are supposed to do. Your first job as a goalkeeper is to make saves. Having that vantage point can be an advantage, but if you lose focus, it can also be a disadvantage.