AIFF Media Team
BHUBANESWAR: The past week has been nothing short of extraordinary for Gurmeet Singh Chahal. Relaxing in his hometown of Narwana in Haryana after wrapping up the club season with Hyderabad FC, he wouldn't have guessed that he'll have to pack his bags and embark on another trip soon – this time to the Indian Senior National Team camp in Bhubaneswar.
While Phurba Lachenpa unfortunately had to be released from the National camp after suffering an adductor strain, it opened the doors for Gurmeet to become the Blue Tigers' latest goalkeeper on the block.
"I've been here for a week now, and it feels amazing," says Gurmeet. "I'm learning something new every single day here from my seniors, even the regular stuff like how they live, how they train, what they eat, etc."
It was a typical day for Gurmeet back home – spending time with his family, and doing his routine training sessions – until he got one of the biggest calls of his life. The next day, he would be at the team hotel in the Odisha capital, sharing a room with Udanta Singh.
"I had just sat down after coming home from training. I first received a call from Hyderabad FC that the national team has asked for me to join the camp. Then I got a call from India's team manager, who told me to pack my bags and get to Bhubaneswar. I couldn't contain my happiness that moment and immediately told my family, who were so delighted for me," he gleefully shares.
It was a breakthrough 2022-23 campaign in the Hero ISL for Gurmeet as he kept seven clean sheets in 14 appearances, conceding just nine goals to help Hyderabad finish second in the league stage. While the 23-year-old has already lifted the coveted Hero ISL title last season, wearing the national team gloves is a feeling just too special for him.
"Playing for the country is a different sentiment. A proud moment and a very big deal for me. Of course, I really have to thank my club Hyderabad FC as well for this national team call-up. They gave me the chance, and I'm grateful to them with all my heart," he smiles.
Gurmeet also takes pride in representing his state Haryana, known as the hotbed of Indian sports. A friend, a ball, a ground and an assuring senior was all it took for a teenage Gurmeet to kickstart his journey in the beautiful game.
"One of my friends used to play football at a stadium nearby, and he took me along with him one day," Gurmeet recalls. "I was in seventh class at that time and started playing in inter-house tournaments in my school, which gradually spiked my interest in the game. Then I regularly began going to the stadium with my friend. I first played at the U-14 level, then represented my district and eventually my state Haryana at the national level."
How he became a goalkeeper is a story we've heard too often. When a group of young kids play football, somebody has to fill in the goalkeeping spot, and that's usually the youngest or the tallest one.
"A senior of mine asked me to stand in goal," Gurmeet laughs. "My height was pretty decent, so he saw me as a good fit as a goalkeeper. And that's how my journey began between the sticks.
"I later joined an academy in Haryana, which I represented in the Subroto Cup in Delhi. After that, I got a call from DSK Shivajians and joined the club in Pune. I played the U-18 Youth League with them, did well and was signed by NorthEast United FC in 2018. I was there for three seasons before Hyderabad FC came calling in 2021," recaps Gurmeet.
While Gurmeet may be thanking that senior, who inadvertently made a life-changing career choice for him, at the moment, he greatly appreciates what he's picking up from goalkeeping coach Frano Srdarev and the two senior custodians.
"Coach Frano tells me my weaknesses in training sessions and works with me to help me improve. He's always shouting non-stop and gives me plenty of individual attention," says Gurmeet.
Although there are three contenders for one goalkeeping spot, this camp is not about competition for Gurmeet but an opportunity to learn as much as he can from two of the best goalkeepers in the country – Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Amrinder Singh.
"Both Gurpreet bhai and Amrinder bhai are very friendly with me and are always encouraging me. Gurpreet bhai is always there to help me with everything. He notices my mistakes and tells me what I need to do better. He has always been my idol and inspiration. It's actually a dream come true for me to be training together with him," Gurmeet adds.