Subrata Paul has high hopes from super successor Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made his international debut in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, where Subrata Paul’s performance earned him worldwide accolades. 

By Subhayan Dutta

Veteran Indian football goalkeeper Subrata Paul believes that his successor Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has what it takes to become a top player.

Sandhu, the current goalkeeper of the Indian football team, took his place between the posts in 2015 after serving as Paul’s understudy for four years. 

During this time, Subrata Paul was impressed with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s diligence and saw a lot of promise in the young goalkeeper. 

“He has always been eager to learn from his mistakes and has continued to grow,” Subrata Paul said in an interview to the All India Football Federation.

“He is still young and has a lot many years left in his playing career," Paul reckoned.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, now 28, got his first India call-up at the of 19 at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, the tournament in which Subrata Paul’s world-class saves won him the nickname “Spiderman”.

Former Indian football team goalkeeper Subrata Paul was impressive in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

During that period, Paul shared his room with the then East Bengal goalkeeper and watched Sandhu closely both on and off the field.

“From day one his never-say-die attitude stood out for me,” Paul, a 2016 Arjuna Awardee said.

“I saw that Sandhu was always trying to learn. He has his idols but does things his own way and doesn't copy anyone, which I respect.

“We have a lot in common, in terms of mentality," Paul added.

Companion in Europe

Subrata Paul became the first Indian goalkeeper to play abroad when he signed for Danish football side FC Vestsjælland in January 2014. 

In August that year, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu followed suit with a move to Norwegian club Stabæk.

Sandhu would then go on to become the first Indian football player to feature in the UEFA Europa League in 2016 and Paul was his constant companion throughout.

"He used to ask me about the atmosphere, climate, football culture, etc.,” Paul said.

“I know how difficult it is -- when you are not getting matches, only training and playing reserve matches, with weather as cold as -10° or -12° C,” the 33-year-old Paul recalled.

Both have returned to India since then, becoming No. 1 choices for their respective Indian Super League (ISL) clubs over the years. Sandhu even won the ISL with Bengaluru FC in the 2018-19 season.

After winning the Golden Gloves for his title-winning season, Sandhu was conferred the Arjuna Award in 2019 as well. And Paul hopes his successor would go on to win bigger accolades.

“May you win more Golden Gloves, Player of the Year awards and I hope you will be the first goalkeeper to win the Padma Shri,” Subrata Paul said. 

The Padma Shri is the fourth highest civilian award of India.