Gurpreet: I will keep my head down
Thursday, July 19, 2012 Report Courtesy : espnstar.com
By Abhishek Dinman
India Under-22 and East Bengal custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is in high spirits. The 6’5” goalkeeper is the latest Indian to be given an opportunity to ply his trade overseas and he believes it is a privilege and almost like a fairy-tale.
Opportunity, sooner or later, comes to those who work and wish. While playing in the AFC Cup in Muscat, Oman, last month, each save and every move by the 20-year-old was keenly observed by John Burridge, the former Manchester City, Newcastle United and Blackpool goalkeeper. Burridge, who has a keen eye for budding talent, was so impressed by Gurpreet’s exploits that he wasted no time in recommending his name to the English Premier League side, Wigan Athletic, for a trial-cum-training spell.
Incidentally, it was Burridge who, during his stint as Oman national coach, had identified and advocated Ali al-Habsi for the role of Wigan goalkeeper. Having cemented his place in the team, Al-Habsi has not looked back.
Gurpreet will leave for the DW Stadium at Wigan in the early hours of Wednesday. He knows there is no royal road to anything but he sounded steadfast in his resolve. Interestingly, he was aware of Burridge’s presence in the stands while playing in Muscat.
“Yes, I knew he was sitting and watching the game but I did not know what his intentions were. You would think that would have made me nervous but actually I was not at all uneasy or anxious. I did not even prepare for this occasion in order to impress him. It was all just another outing for me,” quipped Gurpreet matter-of-factly.
The under-22 player, who has captained the side on many occasions, was ecstatic when Burridge revealed his plans. “It was very surprising, out of the blue. It was a very exciting to be standing face-to-face with Burridge. I don’t think anyone gets a chance of this magnitude at this young an age. It is a great step in the right direction and my family is over the moon. They are also very proud.”
Did he follow Wigan? “Yes, very closely because of Al-Habsi. I followed his style but it’s hard to copy anyone else’s style. But one learns from the experience of the others. Otherwise, ex-Manchester United keeper, Edwin van der Saar, is my idol.”
Burridge has also been advising young Gurpreet in various aspects of the game and he feels honoured to have drawn the attention of a renowned European figure. “He said ever since he spotted me, he wanted to spend time with me to see what I am like. His only advice that I always keep in my mind is to keep a clean sheet.”
Gurpreet is now keeping a closer watch on Wigan, almost tailing the Premier League side. “They are returning from Sweden and Austria from their pre-season training drill and I can’t wait to join the big boys. I am leaving at 4 a.m. on Wednesday but have not been informed of what my schedule is going to be like.
“I will be there for close to five days. I have never been on a trial like this before so don’t know what to expect but I am ready for any challenge. This is like a dream-come-true. Never imagined something like this could happen but I know I must keep my head down. I believe if I do well, the future is bright.” One could sense a dream-like trance in his voice.
The question many are asking is what if he really cracks it. What if Wigan offer him a deal and he has to pack up and move to England? Gurpreet is not thinking too far ahead. “Leaving East Bengal has never crossed my mind. I am being realistic, I don’t think it is quite possible yet at Wigan. At the most, I think, they will send me to other teams to play or even consider me for a later period. Who knows? I am taking each step at a time.”
In Gurpreet’s own words, his towering height and firm grip on the ball are assets that he believes will take him greater distances. Although this foray could just be a taster for bigger things to come, Gurpreet hopes it turns out to be an experience of immense value.
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