MUMBAI: Having become the first Indian player to play in the Europa League in June, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is happy breaking new ground abroad. Though the Indian Super League has brought in money, glamour and popularity for the game in the country, the 6’4” tall goalkeeper would rather practice and hone his craft in the faraway Norwegian League with his club Stabaek.
“I still believe playing in Europe is a better choice,” said Gurpreet, who will vie with Subrata Paul for a spot in the goal when they take on higher-ranked Puerto Rico in a friendly game in Mumbai on Saturday. The 24-year-old from Chandigarh signed with the Norwegian side in 2014. He started in goal for Staebek in their Europa League clash against Connah’s Quay Nomads in Deeside Stadium, Wales.
“It is better for me as a player, and will help India and Indian players to motivate them to play in Europe. That’s where we want to be, not in India.”
While his big build automatically gives him a bigger presence than India’s goalkeeping mainstay for a few years, Paul, Gurpreet’s exploits in Europe are also set to give him an edge. The facilities and detail to training gained in Norway, has seen the promising player blossom.
“The difference is the weather, the atmosphere (for football) is a bit better. The players you play and train with are of better quality, that helps you raise your level,” he said in Mumbai on Wednesday. “That’s the main difference, there’s not a lot of difference in the intensity.”
The goalkeeper recently met with the India U-17 squad, the best junior talent assembled for the U-17 World Cup to be held in India next year, in Pune and believes that the sooner they get access to a European football set-up the better.
“Thats the only way Indian football can progress, with more players playing outside India. If the (current U-17) players are willing to try, I think every single one of them has a shot.”
Gurpreet’s contract with the Norwegian side runs out next year, and he is aiming higher: better league, better club. But coming back to India, even if Indian football is re-structured to a three-tier League with the ISL at the top of the pyramid, is not on the radar for now.