Bengaluru FC, thanks to some really shrewd planning, have set off ripples of seismic nature in Indian football after managing to capture the services of goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from Norwegian outfit Stabaek FC.
Read More: LOOKING BACK AT GURPREET'S TIME IN EUROPE
The club, which has ventured into the cash-rich Indian Super League (ISL), will certainly benefit from the presence of the 6'4" tall goalkeeper between their goalposts but how will the move impact the custodian's career aspirations?
After featuring for Pailan Arrows, he made his senior debut for East Bengal towards the end of the 2009-10 domestic season. Although his stature rose steadily despite committing silly errors between the posts, soon enough he captured the imagination of the footballing fraternity when Norwegian outfit Stabaek FC came calling in 2014.
For an Indian player, playing in the top-most tier of a European league is the stuff of dreams and Gurpreet has certainly made progress at Stabaek in his three-year stint with them. The standard of football in Europe is, obviously, at a much higher level than what can be expected in India, despite the excellent strides the national team and the two domestic leagues - ISL and I-League - have made in recent years.
The 25-year-old, after signing in 2014, made his senior debut for Stabaek in 2015 in a friendly and soon enough cemented his place as the club's second-choice and featured in several cup games. He went on to make his first appearance in the Norwegian Eliteserien in May 2016, something unprecedented for an Indian player.
His steady progress also saw him play a Europa League qualifier game against Welsh club Connah's Quay Nomads in June 2016, another first for an Indian. His game, understandably, has improved by leaps and bounds during his stint in Europe which has benefitted the national team as Stephen Constantine's team climbed their way up the rankings ladder, thanks to impressive performances reinforced by a strong goalkeeper between the sticks.
Gurpreet's conduct and attitude at the Norwegian club has been praised several times by his coaches as well.
All facts considered, does it make sense for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who, going by goalkeeping norms, is only just entering his prime to end his European stint and return to India?
Despite all the obvious improvements made and exposure available in Europe, the fact remains that Gurpreet has not played enough first team games during his three-year stint. He has made only three league appearances and only several cup starts, apart from the lone Europa League appearance which lasted all of 30 minutes. It must be noted that he would feature regularly in the reserve league.
From relative obscurity as the second choice for a mid-table Norwegian club, Gurpreet will be traversing to superstardom as part of Bengaluru FC at a time when the attention and fanfare surrounding Indian football is at its zenith. With renowned coaches and players coming in for a longer ISL season, it certainly is a good time to make a re-entry into Indian football scenario, which has radically changed from when Gurpreet left in 2014.
It would also have appealed to the custodian's thought-process that he will be sharing the limelight with Sunil Chhetri, the torch-bearer of Indian football, and Udanta Singh, one of the best upcoming talents in the country.
Moreover, Bengaluru FC have an extremely professional setup with excellent facilities and a competent group of support staff, led by coach Albert Roca. Gurpreet has already trained with the Southern Eagles already and was left impressed by the set-up.
Apart from footballing reasons, it is a well-known fact that Gurpreet has been earning significantly lesser wages than what average or even subpar players are earning in the ISL these days. Now that he has three years of European experience under his belt, Gurpreet could not be faulted for being swayed by the big bucks on offer as well from the side from Bengaluru.
The goalkeeper will also have the chance to play for the JSW-Steel owned outfit in the continental competition, with the team completing his registration with AFC for the upcoming AFC Cup Inter-Zonal semifinal against April 25 SC from DPR Korea.
With Lalthuammawia Ralte and Abhra Mondal the competitors for the first team place, Gurpreet can virtually assure himself of being the first choice at Bengaluru FC. Yes, he won't be experiencing the higher quality of football he has been used to in Norway but he will definitely benefit from playing a full domestic season.
He has been honing his skills patiently and now the time has come for Gurpreet Singh to showcase them consistently in front of adoring crowds, who have always been left wanting for more after only seeing him in action for the national team.