By Stefan Coerts
In a country where cricket and field hockey are the most popular pursuits, Indian youngsters often think twice before considering a future in football.
Players such as Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri have without doubt raised the beautiful game's profile in recent years, but Indian football is nowhere near the level of fellow Asian countries Japan and South Korea, and kids often prefer another career.
However, if it is up to new Feyenoord signing Harmeet Singh, football will soon be able to compete with the more traditional Indian sports.
The 21-year-old was born and raised in Oslo, Norway, but his Indian roots are very important to the gifted midfielder. Even though Singh has been unable to visit his beloved India for eight years now due to club obligations, he has not forgotten about the the country of his parents' birth.
"I was born in Oslo, but most of my family were living in India at the time. I do have some aunts and cousins in Norway, too, but I went back to India every summer as a kid," Singh told Goal.com from inside De Kuip stadium.
The midfielder has just finished lunch after a training session with his new club, and he is happy to discuss his background. Visibly proud of his Indian roots, Singh explains in a calm manner what the country means to him.
"India is really close to my heart. I see myself as an Indian guy, but I also have a close relationship with Norway because that's where I was born and went to school. I'm half Indian and half Norwegian, an Indian guy born in Norway. I really love the Indian life. I've been focusing on my career and goals, but I want to visit India again as soon as I have the opportunity.
|PLAYER STATISTICS | Harmeet Singh (Feyenoord & Norway)
Attributes: Passing, flair, creativity
|Height||Weight||Place of Birth||Caps||Former clubs|
"You appreciate what you have more when you have been in India. There's a big difference between the rich, the normal and the poor people. Hopefully in the future I can make a change. I want to help people in India. I really love my country."
Singh realises that football is still developing India, and admits the sport faces stiff competition from cricket and field hockey.
Nevertheless, the Feyenoord midfielder is hopeful that his rise to prominence in the European game can inspire youngsters to pursue a career in football, too.
"I think India is a growing football nation. It's a different culture, and a different way of living. The game is developing and that's a good thing. I want to help and I'd like to be a role model. I want to inspire younger players, because I think there's a lot of talent," the humble, yet confident, Singh explains.
"A lot of Indian people play cricket and have a big passion for this sport. But I really hope that I can encourage some young kids to play football, too. I hope that the young Indian kids will perhaps choose football instead of cricket at a young age if they have somebody to look up to. But this also depends on the environment you grow up in. If people around you play football, you're more likely to play football as well. And it helps if there are big players to look up to."
Eye on the ball | Singh is determined to make a name for himself
As one of the first players of Indian descent to try his luck in Europe's top leagues, Singh could represent significant commercial value for Feyenoord. This suggestion bothers the midfielder, though.
"I hope that these players aren't just signed for commercial reasons. It should be because they are young and talented, and can make a change. Look at what Park Ji-Sung did at Manchester United. He was bought because he was a good player. And if you can mean something commercially, it's a bonus."
At the tender age of 21, the midfielder has already represented Norway at senior level, and he is desperate to shine on the biggest stage.
"It feels really good to play for Norway. It's a big honour. I'm really ambitious and I want to play for my country because then I have a bigger chance to play at big tournaments."
|I want to play for Norway, because then I have a bigger chance to play at big tournaments. If India want me to play for them, it would be no problem for me to sit down with them and discuss it
However, Singh could still switch allegiances as he has yet to feature in a competitive game for Norway, and he refuses to rule out a future with India.
"If India want me to play for them, then it would be no problem for me to sit down with them and discuss it. There has never been an approach, and I don't even know whether I could play for them because I don't have an Indian passport. I have the life-long visa, but not a passport.
"I'm really curious about the options, though. I haven't closed the door on India. If they really want me, then it's no problem for me to have a conversation with them to see what they want and to get to know a bit more about Indian football."
Grin and bear it | The 21-year-old is eager to learn at De Kuip
Before focusing on an eventual future with India, though, Singh's main priority remains Feyenoord. After catching the eye of several clubs at Valerenga, the midfielder opted to continue his career in the Eredivisie.
"Feyenoord are a big club that have developed a lot of good players, and I'm really looking forward to my time here. It's important for me to develop as a player, so I had to make this step. I don't really care about the money.
"I never had any doubts. I had some other offers, but I was really excited about the opportunity to join Feyenoord. I could perhaps have moved elsewhere if I had waited a bit longer, but the important thing for me was to join the right club."
Singh will be working under the guidance of former Netherlands international Ronald Koeman in Rotterdam, and the 21-year-old is keen to learn from the ex-Barcelona star.
|I look up to every person who can teach me something, and I think I can learn a lot from Koeman. He is a very experienced person, and it's really humbling to be able to work with such a big coach and former big player|
"I look up to every person who can teach me something, and I think I can learn a lot from Koeman. He is a very experienced person, and it's really humbling to be able to work with such a big coach and former star player. Everything he says to me, I just try to soak up as much as possible.
"Feyenoord have great staff and a young team. They are one of the best teams in Netherlands. And we have a good group with the right mentality to develop and make that next step. That's the main reason why I came here."
After pre-season games against the likes of Dordrecht and Mallorca, the versatile midfielder could make his official debut in the Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday.
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