We were too nice and naive: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu on Bengaluru FC's slow start
"That's what even we as senior players see and learn from him - the best Indian player is on the bench, but it doesn't matter," Gurpreet tells ESPN in an exclusive interview.
There have been a few changes at Bengaluru FC this season. Some significant one and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has slowly embraced those changes. But all of them were easy to take but the team always came first.
For the majority of his career, Sandhu has walked out behind a 5'7" tall, No. 11: Sunil Chhetri, who has been wearing the armband for both club and nation. But especially over the last few weeks of this season, that hasn't been the case.
Eight of the 18 Hero ISL games that Sunil Chhetri hasn't started (so far) have required Sandhu to serve as Bengaluru FC's captain. Before Bengaluru FC's six-game winning streak, during which Chhetri played just 33 minutes of football, the team initially struggled (winning just three of 12 games).
Gurpreet signed a new five-year contract extension with the Blues under these conditions. He has been playing for the club since 2017, and this is where he now sees himself practising and playing football in order to further his goals and not stop learning.
"That's what even we as senior players see and learn from him - the best Indian player is on the bench, but it doesn't matter," Gurpreet told ESPN in an exclusive interview.
"I want to play in the (AFC) Champions League, I want to play there for my club rather than moving to a Champions League club," the goalkeeper added.
The goalkeeper lauded the team's self-belief and said he believes they are progressing as a unit after talking about the Blues' turnaround since the new year, winning seven straight games after a sluggish start to the season.
"Maybe we were being too nice, we were being too naive," he said.
"So that was the message to the younger boys — to keep things simple and have a fighter's mentality. It's important that you don't repeat the same mistakes, one mistake is allowed, and we'll help you through it, but when you haven't come out of that mistake and moved on in time for the next game, then you're harming the team," said Sandhu.
The 31-year-old is one of the more experienced players in the Bengaluru FC squad, and he's got company with the likes of Indian teammate and defender Sandesh Jhingan and Brazilian Alan Costa. The goalkeeper is aware that his job has expanded beyond just denying goals; he also understands that he must guide the team and mentor the younger players.
"I don't believe in making super saves and flying saves. I'd rather talk to my defenders and diffuse the situation then and there," he said.
I learned the words "direita" and "squerda" (the Portuguese words for right and left) just to tell Alan which side he has to track his runners. I keep telling them (the youngsters) in training that I've realised how important the people in front of you are. Those are the ones who will face the ball before you. So it's better they face it than you," he added.
Sandhu's presence is crucial not just at the club level but also for the Indian national team, and the upcoming year is considered to be huge for Indian football. He is driven to succeed both at the club and on the international stage. He is aware that there are no shortcuts to success and is eager to meet his goals as soon as possible.
"My first ambition is to stay fit this month," Gurpreet said.
"Beyond that, it's important for us to make the next step, now that we've qualified for the second consecutive time. That's a start, but we can't go there just to make up the numbers. We've won trophies and had success before, but that doesn't mean the work has stopped, now other clubs have taken it up a notch. We need to stay grounded, work hard, and believe in our ecosystem because that's what sets us apart,” he stated.