“As a kid, I used to look at pictures of sportspersons in newspapers holding the Arjuna Award,” Gurpreet Singh Sandhu mentioned moments after being named the winner of the Arjuna Award. “Today, I am pinching myself to see whether me being named a winner of the Arjuna Award is a dream or a reality,” he smiled.
In an exclusive interview with AIFF Media, Sandhu, the first Indian footballer to play in a UEFA Europa League match (qualifier), spoke at length about the significance of him receiving the Award, his future goals, the impact of the AIFF junior set-up in his footballing career, and much more.
What does Arjuna Award mean to you?
My first memory as a kid about sports awards was the Arjuna Award. I remember reading about it in the newspapers, seeing pictures of legendary Indian sportspersons holding the Award, and my near and dear ones talking about their achievements. I was just a kid at that time.
From then to now, I never even imagined that in my life, I would be a recipient of the same Award. More than it being such a prestigious award, I am still getting goosebumps recollecting names who have won this honour since its inception. Being in the same list as them is a huge motivation and honour at the same time. But therein, begins the next phase for me – the responsibility to stay grounded and aim higher.
You have had a career which can be the envy of all. First to play in Europa, one of youngest India’s national team captains, and now the Arjuna Award. How do you look back at your career?
Nothing would have been possible without the support of my family, my teammates – both with the National Team, and my Club. The support of the backroom staff who work tirelessly defines it all.
If I am honest, I need to admit that from the time I first kicked the football, I never saw myself coming this far. It has been an unbelievable journey which has taught me to become humbler day-by-day. The learning experience has been immense. And I reiterate, I feel all of that has just kicked-off in my life.
Whom do you dedicate this Award to?
I want to dedicate this Award to my seniors who carved this path for me to get on and to the future generations of footballers who might look up to this moment and would want to get on the path that is Indian Football.
What goals do you have for yourself for the future?
In any sphere of life, it’s the hunger which defines everything. I need to keep the hunger alive to learn more, embrace more. The moment complacency creeps in, you as a footballer won’t get to improve, and your performances are sure to nosedive. I aim to contribute as much as I can to Indian Football, both on, and off the pitch.
What does you being conferred the Arjuna Award mean for Indian Football?
It means a lot. I never feel this is an individual Award. I believe this is an Award to the entire Indian Footballing fraternity for their amazing perseverance and contribution. It will only inspire everyone to do better and work towards our ultimate goal.
How much impact did the AIFF Academy have on your football?
The junior national team set-up has been wonderful – benefitting a whole new generation of players who have been through it. Surely I am one of them. I know I wouldn’t have been standing where I am now, had I not been lucky to be privileged to be a part of the Academy set-up in those days.