Becomes First Indian in Top Tier Club
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is admant that he was never as gifted as “some others in the business”. The 22-year-old goalkeeper from Mohali has made history after becoming the first Indian since independence to start for a European top tier club.
Sandhu took the field for Norway’s Stabaek Football Club in their 4-1 win over Follo Fotballklubb in a friendly tie. It also made him the second Indian ever to have played at that level, following in the footsteps of Mohammad Salim, who played for Celtic FC in 1936.
“I am happy that my first appearance for the club came in a victory. It is a proud moment,” said the 6-foot-5-inch star, who was signed by Stabaek FC last year but had since been only playing matches with the reserve squad.
But Sandhu’s decision to join Stabaek was not an easy one. It meant he had to miss out on a berth in the Indian team for the 2014 Asian Games and even turned down offers to play in the first Indian Super League (ISL).
“I regret missing the Asian Games. Playing for the country is an honour. But I had to sort out the work permit issues. I was so close to realising my dream of playing for a top tier club abroad, so joining Stabaek was more important to me as I want to develop myself,” said Sandhu, who began playing at the age of eight after joining the academy at St Stephen’s School, Chandigarh, in 1999.
He was signed by East Bengal in 2010 and represented the club in the I-League, Federation Cup, the AFC Cup among other tourneys.
In 2010, he competed in the Guangzhou Asian Games as well. Acknowledging the efforts of every coach he has played under, he said, “I am grateful to John Burridge (former Manchester City goalkeeper) and television presenter Joe Morrison who have helped me in shaping my career.”
Morrison and Burridge, impressed by Sandhu’s performances in the 2011 I-League, were instrumental in getting him a trial first at Wigan Athletic, the English Premier League club, in 2012. Sandhu then landed the Stabaek FC contract with the duo’s help.