On Independence Day, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu says what it means to play for India

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who has played in Europe, wants to see India among the top footballing nations in the world.

By Utathya Nag

Indian football team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu thinks that playing for one’s country is a ‘feeling like no other’ and the current generation of players are doing all they can to establish India as a top footballing nation.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is a core member of the national team and the 28-year-old holds the distinction of being the first and only Indian to play in the UEFA Europa League during his stint with Norwegian club Stabaek.

“Indian football belongs right at the top. We deserve as much respect as any other team. We won't take anything less. We are hardworking people and have been striving hard for results,” Gurpreet Singh Sandhu told the All India Football Federation on the eve of India’s 74th Independence Day.

“We are not to be taken lightly and we would like to gain the same respect from any opposition that plays against us. That’s what we play for,” said the Indian custodian.

Counting on the new generation

India’s first-choice goalkeeper in the past few years, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is one of the leaders in the Indian dressing room and has also worn the captain’s armband on several occasions.

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is one of the core players in the Indian football team. Photo: AIFF

Sandhu notes that he treats each of his appearances in the Indian jersey as a badge of honour.

“There's no feeling like playing for the country. You want to play as many games as you can for your nation. It's something really special.”

Indian football has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts over the past decade and reliance on youth has played a big role in that. Easy access to information, Gurpreet feels, has been a boon for the current generation of players, helping them mature faster.

“The level of knowledge and exposure today’s generation of players have as compared to back then -- there's been a big change. Now it's much more and information is easier to get,” Sandhu said.

“A player like Sunil Chhetri, who was there at that time is still at the top of his game and he has changed his habits. Young players can follow Chhetri or looking at Sandesh Jhingan or me,” Sandhu went on to add.

Gurpreet has been stuck in Australia since the COVID-19 lockdown began and has been training Down Under with the Sydney United 58 squad coached by former AC Milan goalkeeper and UEFA Champions League-winner Zeljko Kalac.

“He (Kalac) has been kind enough to allow me to train with the club and it has been great to get that kind of exposure while also enjoying some family time. It has been a pleasure," Gurpreet said.

The Bengaluru FC keeper also sent his Independence Day wishes to all his compatriots back in India.