Gurpreet walks the less trodden path

The goalkeeper is the only Indian to refuse the lure of Indian Super League so far to build a reputation as a football professional in Europe.

Gurpreet Singh (in red) plays for Stabaek in Norway.   -  K. Murali Kumar

India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh had a considerable influence on proceedings in his team’s international friendly against Nepal. Besides keeping a clean slate in 90 minutes of match-play, he kept team-mates in the defence on their toes with brief bursts of chatter. He also caught the rival backline by surprise with a counter-attack.

Gurpreet, Stephen Constantine’s first-choice goalkeeper, continues to grow in stature as India captain in international friendlies, and is likely to be handed a first-team place for the Asian Cup Qualifier next week in Bengaluru against Kyrgyz Republic. “He appears to be getting taller each time,” joked the national coach.

Gurpreet is the only Indian to refuse the lure of Indian Super League so far to build a reputation as a football professional in Europe. The 25-year-old moved from East Bengal to Stabaek in August 2014 and his current contract runs out in July 2017. Constantine hopes more Indians follow the captain’s example. “Gurpreet coming back and talking to the boys, telling them what it is like (out there) is useful. I am sure some of them are thinking about getting an opportunity. More of them need to take that step. He has stuck it out for three years in Norway all by himself. It is a beautiful country but also very cold.”

‘Not easy’

Constantine added: “It is not easy, you need faith in yourself and he has shown that. I believe we have talent in this country, we don’t know how good till we go outside and test ourselves in Europe.”

Gurpreet said: “Someone made me believe that I can make it (in European football). When I was playing, I looked at Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Subrata Paul who have played outside (India). If they could, why not me? These three players fired me to try and get into a club in Europe. It is a risk worth taking, if you do the right things. It is not a risk people should be afraid of. I urge the young players to make an attempt.”

That India has moved up to 100 in FIFA rankings may help Indian football players in this endeavour, besides the live telecast of competitions like the Asian Cup Qualifiers 2019 and other AFC events which feature Indian clubs. As Constantine increasingly hands out international debuts to new players - like Jerry Lalrinzuala against Nepal at the Mumbai Football Arena - the opportunities to impress talent scouts seems to be growing. However, whether other players follow Gurpreet’s footsteps remains to be seen.

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