CHENNAI: The appointment of coach Igor Stimac has brought plenty of optimism into Indian football. The Croatian has tried to implement a passing style and has had opportunities for trial and error at the King’s Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. While some results were promising, there were areas that required attention too. The team’s away form is one of them. Despite winning against Thailand recently and securing a draw against Oman last December, their performance on the road is an area of concern, especially with stronger teams in fray for the second round of the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup 2022 in September.
However, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, nicknamed Spiderman, doesn’t agree. He feels that the team’s inability to hold on to games is something that will bother India going forward. “I think the away form has been good as well if you take into account the last 10 games or so. But we need to have more confidence when we are playing away as well. It’s not that we can’t score goals away from home. We have scored goals before and we need to keep that heat alive and make sure we get something out of it,” Gurpreet told this daily as he prepares to join a camp that will start in Goa on Monday.
With the team having a good balance of youngsters and experience, Gurpreet is playing a dual role. While he has been a solid custodian for the national team, Stimac has also asked the Bengaluru FC star to help him mould the next generation of players. Stimac’s love for giving chance to youngsters is well known and Gurpreet is of the opinion that the youngsters shouldn’t be burdened with responsibilities immediately and should rather be eased into it. “I need to be a good example on and off the pitch. Because I can tell from my experience that as a junior player, I used to learn from my seniors. And I will ensure that the environment that they are in is a light-hearted one. We try and be a little funny off the pitch and keep them in the loop and make sure they are happy.”
A day after Gurpreet was nominated for the prestigious Arjuna Award, the 27-year-old is only focussing on how to help the team in September. While there hasn’t been much contact with teammates, he did have the occasional chats with players like Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh. And both, according to him, resonated the same feelings ahead of the qualifiers — difficult but not impossible.
Personally for Gurpreet, the last few months has been a refreshing change. A part of it is down to goalkeeping coach Tomislav Rogic. Rogic reminds Gurpreet of the time he spent in Norway playing for Stabaek Football. “He is from a similar level (Norway). The training methods are very demanding and difficult. But at the end of the day, it is satisfying because it is benefitting me.” However, Gurpreet wished that all these facilities came to him while he was younger. “I wish I had training like these when I 15. I could have turned out much much better.”