In light of the recent turn of events that saw the Indian Super League (ISL) new entrants Bengaluru FC pull off a cracking deal to land India national team goalkeeper and former Stabaek FC player Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the man who brokered the seemingly impossible deal spoke exclusively to Goal. Here's every bit of what the Bengaluru FC CTO Mandar Tamhane had to say:
Q : After the ISL rules were released, you had to let go of Amrinder Singh in favour of retaining Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh. What was the thought process behind this deal and when did you decide to go for Gurpreet?
A : Around a couple of weeks before the ISL draft, I had a discussion with Parth Jindal (Bengaluru FC owner) over the possibility of a deal and once he gave me the green signal then the ball was set rolling. There were a lot of complications for this to happen but the thought was a couple of weeks before the draft.
Q : Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was on the bench for his last match for Stabaek on Sunday. It took you more than six weeks before you managed to sign him on the last day of the Norwegian transfer window. How difficult was it to pull this off?
A : The thing was that, it was actually done in a manner which was not loud with very few people knowing about it because otherwise, it would not have been feasible to do what we have done. It had to be done in a way in which we kept it confidential. We made sure none was aware of this kind of a development.
Once you know what the rules are - the draft rules, the international transfer market, the deadline etc. then you know how to play your cards, you have to plan in advance, anticipate it and then play as per what you finally want to achieve.
In this case, Stabaek has played a very important in role in cooperation in terms of documentation prior to the deadline for registration. AFC (Asian Football Confederation) has been also very helpful in allowing us to register and then furnish all the relevant documents.
And obviously, people in the AIFF (All India Football Federation) were also helpful. Sankalp Poojary, who is the registrations manager, was very efficient in getting it done on time.
So it's something which was done with a lot of trust and support. Hence, it was possible to get this done.
Q : Other ISL teams had also approached the player but he chose Bengaluru FC. The club now has three big players - Sunil, Udanta and Gurpreet and two of these players are accustomed to the role of being India captain. How much does this help Bengaluru FC in terms of brand value and what does this mean for you and the club?
A : Now Gurpreet becomes a marquee player for us. Sunil also has been our marquee signing. We know how they play on the pitch. As far as off the pitch is concerned, they add a lot of value. Gurpreet has played in Europe, in the Europa League. So for us, it adds a lot more value to whatever we have already built in the last four years.
For me personally, I feel very happy to be able to get this done. For that, I also have to thank Parth for allowing me to do that. Because we need the support from the owners without which it wouldn't have been possible.
Q : Two ISL clubs chasing the player told Goal that Gurpreet wanted to sign for a European club and then come to India on loan. How did you manage to convince him to directly sign a contract with Bengaluru FC?
A : Gurpreet had clear thoughts in his mind that he wanted to play. He was a part of Stabaek team for three years but if you see, I don't think he got the game time that he deserves for whatever capabilities he has. That probably was the main reason why Gurpreet wanted to come back to India. That is what I realized much earlier that this is what is in his mind - he wants to play.
Yes, playing in Europe, being a part of a European club is very huge. But not getting to play for any club is also not good for any professional player. And somebody of Gurpreet's caliber, who I personally feel in Indian football scenario is at his prime of what he can achieve and will grow on to become better, his capability is he is among the best in India as far as goalkeepers are concerned and he is not getting to play. I completely align myself with this thought process and I think that is something that made Gurpreet decide to come back to India.
Q : Bengaluru FC has now become the first ever Indian club to pay a transfer fee to a foreign club to sign an Indian player. Did you ever think about the fee being exorbitant? How did you manage to convince the Stabaek Sporting Director Igle Andre Olsen to lower the fee?
A : Once Parth was very clear that he wanted to bring the player to Bengaluru FC, then you have to negotiate in a manner in which all the concerned parties are happy with. It had to be done with a lot of respect to even Stabaek because he was there for three years and we need to value that.
Not worried much about why [we are] the first Indian club to pay a transfer fee, it is something that had to be done. Also when I spoke with Gurpreet, he wanted to be a part of a club that had representation in Asia. My understanding of that is that it helped him take the decision to come to Bengaluru FC, apart from just coming to India.
Q : With Gurpreet in the fold, is Bengaluru FC all set for AFC Cup now without any chinks in the armour?
A : It is going to be tough. We have hardly had 12-to-13 sessions including our exposure trip in Spain. It's not very to easy to pick a team in a short span of time with 14-to-15 new faces. We have to be prepared. We have got about a week and are confident.
Gurpreet, who is currently by far the best Indian goalkeeper by some distance, would certainly add steel to Albert Roca’s side. Bengaluru FC have been drawn against 4.25 SC of DPR Korea in the Inter Zonal playoffs of the AFC Cup 2017 and is expected to take the field on August 23 for their first leg match with their new statement signing in goal.