By Debayan Mukherjee
Bengaluru, Jan 14 (IANS) Having spent the bulk of his career in Europe, Indian football’s No.1 goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu feels his potential successor Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem — set for trials at Scottish Premiership side Motherwell FC — should be “careful” of what he is signing up for.
“I am delighted. This is the right time for him to move out. He is 18 and I wish I had an opportunity like this when I was his age. But it’s something that he has to be very careful about,” Sandhu told IANS in an interview.
“It’s good that he wants to challenge himself. It’s more mental than physical. I hope he is making the right choice about which place to go. Because if he goes to a place which doesn’t see him as a player for the future, it’s a big problem,” the 25-year old said.
Currently plying his trade for Indian Super League (ISL) club Bengaluru FC here, the tall custodian turned out for Norwegian club Stabaek FC 11 times in three seasons keeping six clean sheets.
Dheeraj, who impressed for India at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, played a few games for Indian Arrows in the I-League before deciding to follow Sandhu’s steps and move abroad.
The Manipur lad is still in India — with ISL side Kerala Blasters — as his agent is sorting out visa issues which, in the United Kingdom, can be a cumbersome process. The UK has strict rules for footballers to qualify for a work permit.
“It will take another three weeks approximately,” the agent told IANS when quizzed.
“I hope he is not used as a player (bait) to enter the Indian market (like some European clubs are attempting). This is the right time for him to move out,” Sandhu said.
Sandhu, during his stint with the Oslo-based outfit, scripted history by first becoming the only Indian to play in the first team of a top division European side, both in the League and Cup, and then featuring in a Europa League’s first qualifying round game.
Asked how it has been since coming back to India, Sandhu said he found it difficult to “push himself” initially, but it was the people around him that made his transition easier.
“I found it very difficult to push myself when I joined. When you come from a higher level, it’s not the same.
“There is a difference in quality and environment. The biggest difference for me was the weather. In Norway, I had been training in minus temperatures. To be honest, the quality of pitches also makes a big difference. It took some time for me to adjust, but here people made me feel like home. It wasn’t a difficult transition,” Sandhu said.
Coming back to India was not in his mind at the start of 2017, Sandhu said, adding he wanted to stay on his own terms after grinding it out for so long and that was not happening.
Sandhu was not happy at the number of games he was playing and it was the first team action that pushed him home also.
“Coming back to India was not something I was thinking at the beginning of last year. But circumstances change very quickly. My first option was to stay in Europe. I tried to achieve that but I had decided that if I stay, I stay on my own terms and that was not happening.
“Coming back to India was the option and I always wanted to be at the best club in India. Bengaluru have put Indian football on the map,” he said.
Sandhu has so far made eight saves in seven ISL games he has played. Does he feel the pressure of expectation?
“I don’t want to tie myself down to expectations,” Sandhu said promptly. “We want to win here. We try to make a difference with our football and style of play.”
About his future, Sandhu said he wants to stay with Bengaluru as long as he is in India.
“If I want to stay in India, I have to choose the right place and BFC is where I want to stay. I don’t think any other ISL club works the way we do.”
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)