Indian Football: What footprint did Gurpreet Singh Sandhu leave on his European sojourn with Stabæk?

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As the Indian goalkeeper parts ways with the Norwegian club, Goal looks back on three years of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu at Stabæk Fotball...

It was three years ago, on 15th August 2014 that news broke of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, then at East Bengal, signing on the dotted lines of Norwegian club Stabæk Fotball - a path a select few Indians had trodden before and fared miserably.

Gurpreet became the fifth Indian to earn a professional contract with a European club after Mohammed Salim (Celtic FC, 1936/37), Bhaichung Bhutia (Bury FC, 1999-2002), Sunil Chhetri (Sporting Clube de Portugal 'B', 2012/13) and Subrata Paul (FC Vestsjælland, 2014).

Tied down for three years, Gurpreet was rated highly by his American manager Bob Bradley but was aware of him being down the pecking order behind numero uno Sayouba Mandé. Amassing over a 100 appearances for East Bengal from early 2010 and also surprisingly being called up to India's 2011 AFC Asian Cup squad, Sandhu made peace with his role of an understudy.

The first time his name appeared on the teamsheet was in an away Tippeligaen match at Strømsgodset on 23rd August 2014. From thereon, Sandhu was always the backup, warming the bench for the rest of his first season, which traditionally ends in early December for the North European nation.

LIST OF APPEARANCES FOR STABÆK:

  DATE SCORELINE
1 22 April 2015 Runar 0-6 Stabæk
2 13 April 2016 Korsvoll 1-4 Stabæk
3 27 April 2016 Sparta Sarpsborg 1-7 Stabæk
4 4 May 2016 Bærum 0-3 Stabæk
5 25 May 2016 Strømsgodset 1-0 Stabæk
6 29 May 2016 Start 0-5 Stabæk
7 30 June 2016 Connah's Quay 0-0 Stabæk
8 26 April 2017 Holmila 0-9 Stabæk 
9 25 May 2017 Asker 0-5 Stabæk
10 28 May 2017 Molde 3-1 Stabæk
11 3 June 2017 Stabæk 2-4 Lillestrøm

22nd April 2015, Sandhu made his first competitive start for the club, making history by becoming the first Indian to actually play for a European first division unit. Sandhu had little to do as his side steamrolled IL Runar 0-6 in the first round of the Norwegian domestic cup.

For the rest of the season, however, Gurpreet became the regular fixture on the bench. At the very same time, he made his senior India debut under Stephen Constantine on 8th September 2015 at Bengaluru, coming up against giants Iran in a World Cup qualifier, losing 3-0.

He started the next three matches for the national team, also keeping his first clean sheet against Guam, thus displacing veteran Subrata Paul by the time the 2015 SAFF Championships rolled in at Thiruvananthapuram during the Christmas/New Year period.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stats

Back to Norway for his third season, Gurpreet got a better look in under new manager Billy McKinlay. He was the preferred choice in the cup, playing all the four games until Strømsgodset knocked them out in the fourth round. Four days later, on 29th May 2016, he rewrote the history books to become the first Indian to start a top division European league game.

Little had a month passed by, the red-letter day for the Punjabi lad arrived. Another piece of history was created when Sandhu walked out of the tunnel at Belle Vue, Rhyl on 30th June 2016 against Welsh side Connah's Quay in the first round of the Europa League qualifiers - the first Indian to make an appearance in a UEFA competition.

Sadly, his participation was limited to 30 minutes in the game as an injury curtailed the historic European debut. He was sidelined for a good chunk of the season and never was able to challenge for the top spot at the club. 

The exposure Gurpreet had got was second to none and national team coach Constantine wasted no time, naming him as the skipper in India's home friendly against Puerto Rico in September of that year. He then also wore the armband in a friendly against Cambodia in March 2017.

LIST OF APPEARANCES FOR INDIA:
  DATE SCORELINE
1 8 September 2015 India 0-3 Iran
2 8 October 2015 Turkmenistan 2-1 India
3 13 October 2015 Oman 3-0 India
4 12 November 2015 India 1-0 Guam
5 25 December 2015 India 2-0 Sri Lanka
6 31 December 2015 India 3-2 Maldives
7 3 January 2016 India 2-1 Afghanistan
8 24 March 2016 Iran 4-0 India
9 29 March 2016 India 1-2 Turkmenistan
10 2 June 2016 Laos 0-1 India
11 7 June 2016 India 6-1 Laos
12 3 September 2016 India 4-1 Puerto Rico
13 22 March 2017 Cambodia 2-3 India
14 28 March 2017 Myanmar 0-1 India
15 6 June 2017 India 2-0 Nepal
16 13 June 2017 India 1-0 Kyrgyz Republic

In what was to be his last half a season in Europe, Gurpreet and the club parted ways. However, good outings in friendlies and for the reserve side made sure that he would be the first pick again, in the cup.

He was back in action as his side brushed away Holmila 0-9 in the first round. Asker came up in the second and a 0-5 result there prompted McKinlay to try him out in the league again. Two quick games and two quick losses, Gurpreet had effectively played his last game for Stabæk on 3rd June.

As expected, the club announced the departure of the 1.94m tall 'keeper on 16th August. Heading back home after three years, Gurpreet is a much fine player from what he was when he burst onto the scene at East Bengal.

From showing the middle finger to the East Bengal faithful to carrying and then flying the flag of Indian football high on European shores, Mohali-born Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has come a long way.

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