Sandhu became the first Indian footballer to feature in a Uefa Europa League match when he played for Norwegian club Stabaek.
As a child, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu had no interest in football but one day, he won a race in school. It caught the football coach’s eye, as had once happened with Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The rest, as they say, is history.
On June 30 this year, Sandhu became the first Indian footballer to feature in a Uefa Europa League match when he played for Norwegian club Stabaek. He made his league debut in May 2016 in an away match against IK Start, becoming the first Indian footballer to play in a European top division league.
In an exclusive interview over Skype, Sandhu spoke about his life, his journey and his experience in Norway. Excerpts:
On his journey from Chandigarh to Norway:
It has been amazing so far. I have learnt a lot. To be honest, I never expected that I would come so far, but a lot of learning still has to be done in my opinion. I am young and I have to practice hard each day so that I give out my best when I am on the field.
On how it felt to become the first Indian to start in a top division league game in Europe:
It was a very special moment of my career. I was lucky to get the opportunity, personally, but it was also very important for Indian football.
On how football became part of your life, and his inspiration:
I didn’t choose the game. The game chose me. I didn’t have any connection to football whatsoever. I had never watched a game; neither had I ever wanted to play it. But luckily I had a football academy in my school and I was picked up by one of the coaches because I remember I won a race in my class. The coach wrote a note in my diary and told me to show the note to my parents. Next day I was at the training ground. That is how it all started.
On his struggles:
I wasn’t the most talented kid back in the day. I didn’t play many games and I don’t think anyone expected me to make it to the professional level. So the struggles have been going since Day One. I am still fighting.
On his experience in Stabaek FC:
I have come very far in these three seasons that I have been with Stabaek FC. The move to Europe has changed me completely as a person and as a player. Every single day here is a mental and physical test. The journey has been long with full of struggles but also the best time of my life.
On how he feels Indian football can progress:
It can only progress with more young Indian players playing outside the country where the standards are much higher.
On his expectations from U-17 squad next year at the Fifa U-17 World Cup:
Expecting them to put in a good show. The World Cup will be an eye opener not only for them but also for the country to see how the world’s best look like.
His message to youngsters who aspire to be like him:
Take the risk! You have nothing to lose. Make sure you have the right people advising you and those they have your best interests instead of theirs. Learn to stand up to people, coaches, and officials if you think you are not treated the right way.