The best goalkeepers India has produced

From Peter Thangaraj’s excellence in the 1950s to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s current-day domination, we take a look at the best goalkeepers India has produced.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu had a memorable outing in India's goalless draw against Qatar in the FIFA World Cup qualifier last year.   -  REUTERS

Indian football has seen rock-solid goalkeepers take charge between the sticks over the years. Here, we take a look at some of the key custodians and their journey to fame.

Peter Thangaraj 

Popularly known as the finest goalkeeper India ever had, Peter Thangaraj played for the national team between 1955 and 1967, making him the longest-serving Indian custodian. The Secunderabad-born player was rated the best ‘keeper in Asia in the 1960s, even making the cut for the Asian All-Stars during the same period. 

Indian football expert Novy Kapadia, in his book ‘Barefoot to Boots’, describes Thangaraj as “an imposing figure who could intimidate opposing forwards”. Thangaraj, who passed away aged 72 in 2008, had a commanding aerial prowess and was known for dramatic reflex-action saves. 

Alongside P.K. Banerjee and Chunni Goswami, Thangaraj was one of the lynchpins of the Indian squad in the 1950s and 1960s.

Peter Thangaraj is a two-time Olympian for India. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

 

After playing for local clubs in Secunderabad, he plied his trade at Madras Regimental Center, Mohammedan Sporting, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, and the Railways.

Thangaraj had an illustrious international career which included two Olympic appearances - 1956 Melbourne Olympics where India reached the semifinal, and the 1960 Rome Olympics. He played in three Asian Games including the 1962 final where India won a gold, the Asia Cup in 1964, and several Merdeka Cup tournaments. In 1967, he was bestowed with the Arjuna Award for his contribution to Indian football. 

Brahmanand Shankhwalkar 

Honoured as the AIFF ‘Player of the Decade’ for the years 1985-95, Brahmanand Shankhwalkar’s career was one to remember, especially in the history of Goan football. Representing the state in the Santosh Trophy for a record 17 times, he is fondly known as the ‘face of Goan football’.

Shankhwalkar led Goa to consecutive Santosh Trophy victories, in 1983 and 1984, putting up an individual record of not conceding a goal for 576 minutes, in the latter edition. He enjoyed an international career of nearly 25 years, making his international debut in 1975 at the AFC Youth Championship in Kabul.

Shankhwalkar played for Goa's Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar, and was the State's first recipient of the Arjuna Award. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

Shankhwalkar featured in the Merdeka Cup, President’s Cup and Kings Cup tournaments during his career. In 1983, he led India at the Nehru Cup in Kochi and three years later, he was also part of the 1986 Asian Games squad in Seoul. 

His club career saw him play at three Goan clubs - Churchill Brothers, Salgaocar and little-known Anderson Marine Sports Club. 

In 1997, he was awarded the coveted Arjuna Award, becoming the first Goan recipient of the honour. His excellence and legacy in Goan football earned him a place in the school textbooks, serving as an inspiration to children. 

Atanu Bhattacharya 

Known for his heroics in the 1984 Asian Cup, Atanu Bhattacharya was yet another key goalkeeper in the rich Indian history of the game. A part of the Asian All-Star XI in the same year, Bhattacharya spent 12 years with the national team.

He played for East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting and later served as a goalkeeping coach for the Reds and Golds, guiding present-day first-choice national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in his early days at East Bengal.

Atanu Bhattacharya in action during the 1984 Jawaharlal Nehru Gold Cup football tournament at the Salt Lake Stadium. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

Bhattacharya played a key role in India’s 1984 Asian Cup qualification round, where the Blue Tigers won three matches and lost just once -- to South Korea. In the final round, India failed to go past the group stage but Bhattacharya’s performance in the qualifiers earned him praise. 

Subrata Paul 

Nicknamed the ‘Indian Spiderman’ for his skills under the bar, Subrata Paul has been a part of the Indian football fraternity since 2004. Paul has played for the biggest names in East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in the I-League and has also tested himself in the cash-rich Indian Super League (ISL) with NorthEast United and Jamshedpur. 

His international career began in 2007 and since then, Paul has been part of several tournaments like Nehru Cup, AFC Challenge Cup, AFC Asian Cup and World Cup qualifiers. 

In 2009, he was part of the winning team which defeated Syria on penalties to seal the Nehru Cup. Paul saved three spot-kicks that helped India win the shootout to retain the cup.

Subrata Paul made 35 saves during the AFC Asian Cup in 2011.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

 

Two years later, he stole limelight again for his 35 saves in the AFC Asian Cup tournament and was also termed one of the top Indian performers in the tournament. 

In 2016, he was conferred with the Arjuna Award, becoming the first Indian footballer since Sunil Chhetri in 2011 to receive the honour.

Subrata, who is now in his 30s, may not be a competitor to the current first-choice national team ‘keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, but the West Bengal-born custodian has been one of the top goalkeepers the country has seen, and he continues to start games at the club level. 

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu 

The national team’s current ‘numero uno’, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, is undoubtedly the best goalkeeper in India right now. Donning the Bengaluru jersey in the ISL, the goalkeeper has emerged as the number one choice for national team gaffers in recent times - be it Stephen Constantine or Igor Stimac. 

The towering goalkeeper started his career at the mighty East Bengal, spending five years at the Kolkata club. Later, after a loan spell with the Pailan Arrows, he made the big switch to Norway, signing for Stabaek. 

During his three-year spell at the Norweigan club, Sandhu could make only three full appearances. His highlight at the club came in 2016 when he became the only Indian to have played in the Europa League after his appearance against Connah's Quay Nomads in the first leg of the first qualifying round tie.

Gurpreet is an ever-present under the sticks for Bengaluru FC in the ISL.   -  ISL Media

 

Returning to India in 2017, he was roped in by Bengaluru, with whom he won the ISL (2018-19) and Super Cup (2018), apart from bagging the Golden Glove this year.

Sandhu made his international debut in 2010 and has 39 caps to his name, having played a total of 3386 minutes on national duty. Of late, he has emerged as one of the most reliable squad members, second only to skipper and club teammate Sunil Chhetri. 

Sandhu’s acrobatic ability, quick reflexes, and timely saves have often bailed out teams in crunch moments. 

In 2019, he was honoured with the Arjuna Award, becoming the fourth goalkeeper after the aforementioned stalwarts - Thangaraj, Shankhwalkar and Paul - to win the award.

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