Moving to India not a step back, says Gurpreet

In a freewheeling chat with Sportstar, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu talks about his transfer to ISL club Bengaluru FC and football outside India among other things.

Gurpreet: "I have always liked and respected Bengaluru FC."   -  K. Murali Kumar

When Gurpreet Singh Sandhu moved to Norwegian club Stabaek in 2014 it was a step into the unknown. Not many Indian footballers had plied their trade abroad and for the handful who tried, success was scant.

Even for Gurpreet the nearly three-year stint involved only ten official games, but the newly-acquired Bengaluru FC goalkeeper insisted he was richer for the experience.

Excerpts:

Is the move to India a step forward or backward?

If you compare the quality of football, everyone knows that [India is behind]. No disrespect to the  players but we are still not that good. India is improving in every aspect of football but it is not fast enough. But I don't think it's a step back. I see this [signing for Bengaluru FC (BFC)] as an opportunity.

Was coming back to India always on the cards?

I was supposed to go to Portugal [top-division club Boavista F.C.] and then come on loan for one season here. This year they already had three goalies and I didn't want to just be a number. I didn't want to go just because I was marketable in India. I chose to wait and we were trying to fix the Portugal thing for the next summer. But because the time was so short – the window in Norway is open only for one month while it's three months elsewhere – we had to make a decision. It was a very stressful time.

Was BFC the only club you wanted sign for?

I have always liked and respected BFC. There were other clubs who were interested. But Stabeak wanted a transfer fee. And regardless, BFC showed interest throughout. That’s something I really appreciated. Also, international competitions like AFC Cup matter a lot. That was another reason I was keen on this move.

Is the move to Portugal still on?

I really hope so. I want to go to Europe. I don't know why people think that I didn't want to go a step higher [and came here]. I want to go higher. But only on my terms. There have been examples of Indian players going abroad for the wrong reasons. It didn't work and they came back. I don't want that to happen to me.

Why don't more Indians go abroad?

I really don’t know. I think it’s the mentality. They need to be brave enough and see the bigger picture. I went late. I wish I could have gone earlier because initially I wasn’t guided right. Players should go out in their teens and use that opportunity. It will be useful for your country and your career.

How did Norway improve you?

I can’t point out one thing. It’s like polishing a diamond. I worked day in day out under good coaches with the right training and guidance. More importantly, the Norway experience made me a better person. By living alone in a foreign country you learn a lot and become more responsible and independent.