Subrata Pal assures that there are no sweaty palms as the India goalkeeper prepares for his maiden stint abroad.. He tries to sound convincing, yet, it’s easy to sense the jitters Pal is feeling as he takes a plunge into the unknown. Quite literally.
The 27-year-old shot-stopper had never heard of FC Vestsjaelland before penning a six-month deal with the club late last year. He has brushed up his knowledge about the Danish Superliga team ever since but still is largely clueless about what to expect there.
There has been no conversation with the coach or his teammates. “I guess that will happen on the training ground once I reach there on Monday,” he said before leaving for Slagelse in east Denmark on Sunday night. “In a way, that’s a good thing because I am going there with an open mind.”
Pal is only the third Indian to ply his trade in Europe after strikers Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri. Bhutia played for Bury FC from 1999 to 2002 whereas India captain Chhetri was signed by Sporting Lisbon ‘B’ for a season in 2012. In comparison, Pal’s deal with Vestsjaelland, also known as FC Vikings, is rather low-profile – both in terms of duration as well as opportunity.
Pal is the costliest goalkeeper in India at the moment, with his previous club United SC reportedly paying Rs 1.25 crore for his services. His market value sky-rocketed after the Asian Cup in 2011, where he was dubbed as ‘Spiderman Subrata’ by South Korean media after an excellent performance against them.
However, there have been indications already of this being more of a marketing gimmick by the club. Pal’s deal with Vestsjaelland has been facilitated by his sponsors Red Bull, the Indian co-owners of the club Anglian Holdings and IMG-Reliance, to whom he is contracted.
It became evident when the club’s chairman Peter Hansen told the Danish media: “Pal is a huge name in India and if we signed a contract with him, there would be stories written about it down there. In the long run it would provide a commercial return on sponsors coming from India to FC
Pal, however, wishes to look at it as an opportunity to firm up his foothold in Europe. Before that, however, the challenge for him would be to break into in his side’s first XI.
Six months is a short time for any player to acclimatise and hit top form. More so for second or third choice goalkeepers, who are hardly going to get any match time.
“A striker has the luxury to come on as a substitute for 10 minutes or so and give a good account of himself. But goalkeepers are not substituted mid-way in a match. So even a second choice goalie hardly gets any playing time so for me it’s going to me very different,” acknowledged Pal, who will be the third choice custodian behind Thomas Mikkelsen and Mads Petersen.
Not surprisingly, Pal said he would be ‘very, very happy’ if he managed even one start for his team. “If I manage to get even one appearance in the first XI, I would be very, very happy with myself. I am under no illusions, though. I know it will be tough,” Pal said.
Pal has been playing for Shillong-based club Rangdajied United for the last one month. Trading regular playing time for experience of playing for a European side was a tricky call. “But I have to think big. If I keep I-League as target, then I won’t improve. Here, I know I will have to be at the top of my game daily. And even that may not be enough,” Pal said. “I hope to play in reserve team and make an impression.
“I guess the standard of their reserve league will be as good as, or even better than, the Indian league. If I do well there, I can hope for a contract extension or attract interest of another European club. Nothing wrong in dreaming, no?”