CHENNAI: Wednesday was not an easy day for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. It was the day his immediate future was going to be decided and there were three ways it could have potentially played out.
For weeks, Gupreet had known his stay at Stabaek was almost at an end. He had joined the club as a novice in 2014 and developed into India’s best goalkeeper. But there was a giant standing between him and a starting spot — Ivorian Sayouba Mande, who played the 2014 World Cup — and the best Gurpreet could hope for was splitting keeping duties with him. For a goalkeeper, who was soon likely going to guard his country’s goal in the Asian Cup, it was not a promising prospect.
He had generated interest from all quarters but with just hours left, there were two players on the scene — Portuguese club Boavista whose academy had launched the careers of stars like Nuno Gomes and Raul Meireles, and Bengaluru FC. The latter was not initially up to sign him permanently though. Their initial plan was to loan him from Boavista once that transfer went through. But it was a difficult deal to pull off with all the deadlines in mind.
There were two separate deadlines in play. August 16 was when the Norwegian transfer window closed, so Stabaek had to sign Gurpreet’s replacement before that. But Bengaluru had a bigger deadline. Once they had a hint Gurpreet was coming, they registered him for their AFC Cup squad on August 6 with his passport. “We registered him for the AFC Cup on the last date,” says Bengaluru Chief Technical Officer Mandar Tamhane. “Gurpreet was registered with his passport copy. To authenticate and validate that registration, you need the international transfer certificate (ITC) and that has to be furnished seven days before our next match day.” That was on August 23 and T-7 was the midnight of August 16.
Then there was a late twist. Boavista and Stabaek had failed to reach an agreement and the loan scenario wasn’t going to work out. It was then that Bengaluru began to explore the idea of signing him outright. That involved the creation of another little bit of history — Bengaluru would be the first Indian club to pay a transfer fee to a European counterpart. “Honestly speaking, we did not think about it in that manner, when we first spoke of the possibility,” Tamhane says. “When Parth (Jindal) gave me the green signal, it was very clear that we had to have the player. And as for a transfer fee, it was only fair to Stabaek.
Gurpreet was with them for three years and due credit has to be given to them. At the end of the day, the value was okay for all parties. It (paying a transfer fee) just happened for the first time because the circumstances were there.” Everybody was happy but BFC were running out of time. They had two days to get all paperwork through. Gurpreet was needed on the Stabaek bench on August 13 — they did not have a reserve keeper for the match. Once that was done Tamhane & Co could get the ball rolling.