Stabaek eyes Indian football links through ‘keeper Gurpreet

Gurpreet was honoured by AIFF with a special award for the breakthrough into European football.

Though the India captain in two international friendlies (Puerto Rico and Nepal respectively at Mumbai Football Arena) is not short of offers from the Indian Super League clubs, he is only focused on the Asian Cup Qualifier game against Krgyz Republic.   -  Stabaek (Facebook)

Norway club Stabaek JF, where national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh is the only Indian player on the first team, is eyeing India for talent-spotting and football business. The club launched a website (https://www.stbfci.com/) for the purpose, including a Facebook page featuring the Indian in goal, backed by Punjabi pop music. “I have been trying to convince the team management about tapping the interest here for football. Each time I play in the Norway league, fans here in India wish to watch match videos,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of AIFF awards ceremony, before moving to Bengaluru on Saturday for the Asian Cup Qualifiers 2019.

Gurpreet, who moved from East Bengal in August 2014, explains: “Stabaek is looking at tie-ups here with academies and also about feasibility in setting up its own academy. The club has tie-ups in different nations, for example Ivory Coast where Stabaek engage people to identify fresh talent from academies there. It makes business sense and we have the maximum foreigners in the Norway league. The team management is aware that like me, Indian youngsters can be looked at closely, for which academy tie-ups will be useful.”

Asked if saw any local talent on par with European levels, he said: “The India U-16 and U-17 group can play. I feel each one of them can be drafted by Norway clubs in their age groups.”

The dedicated Facebook page also has a note from Lars Thorner directed at Indian companies willing to come on board as team sponsor and information to club fans in India about an online store for merchandise purchase. Queries from Indians about purchasing the goalkeeper jersey can be seen. “India is a huge market for sport in Asia, football especially. The management is alert to the potential.”

Gurpreet’s recent appearance in Norway was on June 3 — Stabaek’s 2-4 loss in a home game against Lillestrom in Eliteserien competition at Baerum. “I am not a special talent. I held on to my place due to patience and work ethic,” said the national ‘keeper.

He is among five goalkeepers listed in the Stabaek official website. “Sayouba Mande (Ivory Coast) was the regular goalkeeper when I joined. He had played the Africa Nations Cup, was senior to me by two seasons. I knew the task of getting into the first team was tough, but not impossible. Every day in training is difficult, physically and mentally I am tougher now in 2017 and happy to help India move up in Asian football, whenever I get the chance.”

Mande (1.93m tall compared to the Indian at 1.94m) joined in 2012 and contract ends in 2018. Both played in UEFA Europa League Qualifiers.

The 25-year-old Indian looking to extend career in Europe after the contract runs out this year end, said: “The more I play for Stabeak first team, the more chance to get noticed. Having done the hard work since 2014, my next switch should take me to a place where I can move my game to the next level.”

Though the India captain in two international friendlies (Puerto Rico and Nepal respectively at Mumbai Football Arena) is not short of offers from the Indian Super League clubs, he is only focused on the Asian Cup Qualifier game against Krgyz Republic.

Gurpreet was honoured by the AIFF with a special award for the breakthrough into European football.

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