When Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stepped onto the field on Wednesday night in the Norwegian Cup, he achieved a feat which even Bhaiching Bhutia or Sunil Chhetri, considered two of the best Indian footballers ever, had not managed in their career. While playing for his club Stabaek FC against third division club IL Runar, Gurpreet became the first Indian ever to play a competitive match for a top-tier European side.
In anticipation of the game, the Mohali lad spent a sleepless night, wondering how the game would pan out. All his fears were laid to rest as Gurpreet made a winning start as he kept a clean sheet in Stabaek’s one-sided 6-0 win over Runar.
“I was happy and excited when our coach Bob Bradley informed me that I would be starting against Runar. I spent a sleepless night and I couldn’t wait to get onto the pitch,” said Gurpreet.
While Bhaichung played for second division club FC Bury, another Indian footballer, Mohammad Salim, never made an official appearance for Celtic. Chhetri, however, plied his trade for Sporting Clube de Portugal and played for the reserve team.
After a string of strong performances for the reserve side and during the team’s pre-season tour to the USA, Bradley finally handed Gurpreet his first senior cap in the Norwegian Cup.
“I feel very lucky to achieve the feat (of becoming the first Indian to play for a top-tier European club). It feels surreal. I was hoping to get a chance soon and I am thankful to the coaches for showing trust in me,” added the 23-year-old.
After signing a three-year contract with Norwegian side Stabaek FC on Independence Day last year, Gurpreet became the first Indian post-Independence and the fifth Indian ever to play professionally in Europe.
In the absence of Sayouba Mande, Stabaek’s first-choice keeper who was on international duty for Ivory Coast at Africa Cup of Nations, Gurpreet made the first start in a friendly match against Follo FK in January early this year.
Gurpreet is now aiming at breaking into the playing 11 in Tippeligaen. “I am hoping to make debut in Tippaligaen but at the moment I just want to keep my patience and let the coaches decide when to put my name in the playing team. When I break into the playing XI, I want to play regularly for the team,” said the former East Bengal keeper, who made over 100 appearances for the I-League club.
A product of St Stephen’s Football Academy in Sector 45, Gurpreet, who is 6’ 5” tall, was touted as a talent to watch out for. After landing a week-long training-cum-trial at English Premier League club, Wigan Athletic, in 2012, Gurpreet attracted several foreign clubs which showed interest in signing him.
However, he opted to sign for Stabaek and after rewriting history with the Norwegian side, Gurpreet is hoping to break new ground with the club.
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