Every time the conversation with Amrinder Singh moves towards the future, challenges and targets, the response of the young goalkeeper begins with, “Mere pass bahot time hai”. I have a lot of time in hand.
This is probably what the 24-year-old shot-stopper must also be telling himself every time he is faced with a one-on-one situation with a striker because Amrinder has time and again shown the ability to not commit himself till the very last minute – a quality that is extremely crucial in such situations.
Though there is still some way for him to be called a complete package, Amrinder has already made his mark in the I-League and the Indian Super League with the quality of his saves and his ability to hold the fort under pressure.
It also earned him the best goalkeeper award for the 2015-’16 season in the I-League and now has made him the highest paid shot-stopper in the Indian Super League after Mumbai City FC retained him for a reported Rs 1.2 crore for the upcoming season.
Amrinder was on loan last season with Mumbai City FC and managed to keep five clean sheets in six appearances. That performance prompted the team to make the move permanent this season under the retention rules for the fourth ISL season.
Each team can retain only two players from their last season’s squad and Amrinder was reportedly also on the radar of his previous employers Bengaluru FC, who are one of the two new franchises in the new ISL season. But the two-time I-League champions opted for India skipper Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh. Mumbai City FC was then quick to close the deal with Amrinder.
“I spent two years at BFC and had a good connect with the fans,” said Amrinder, who started his national league career with the now defunct Pune FC. “Due to our AFC Cup commitments I joined Mumbai City FC late last season and got only six games to play. But even in those, I was happy with the support I got from the team management and the fans, and I felt it was good to move to a city where I have already played.”
Amrinder missed out on the first year of ISL since Pune FC refused to loan any of their players for the tournament, but his impressive showing in the second season for Atletico de Kolkata caught the attention of many I-League and ISL clubs.
But even before that, the coaches of the Pune FC Academy had unearthed a talented custodian in 2011 and moved him to the first-team training just after his 18th birthday. “I think that was the turning point for me.” Amrinder said. “My football career was going nowhere in Punjab as I was training hard but there were no avenues to play. That is when my coach told me about the trials for Pune FC Academy.”
He added, “I got selected for month long training stint with the academy but within few hours of reaching Pune, the coaches asked me to train with the senior team for 10 days and since then I haven’t looked back.”
It was definitely a huge step up for the boy from Punjab, who began as a striker and was converted into a shot-stopper by coach Yarvinder Singh only when he was 15.
Though the coach’s logic for converting him into a goalkeeper was based on his good height and physique, Amrinder feels that his decision to make the shift was purely based on his chances of getting into the playing XI.
“Even as a child I have hated sitting on the bench,” said the 6’1”-tall custodian. “So when the coach spoke to me about becoming a goalkeeper I think at that time I only thought that I will get to play more.”
But Amrinder insists that he still spends a lot of time with the strikers to understand the way they think and approach match situations as it helps his own skill set. “At BFC, I used to talk a lot to Sunil Chhetri about facing one-on-one situation with strikers. He used to explain to me how the striker looks for the goalkeeper to commit before taking his shot and insisted that if strikers hit the ball clean then I have no chance. But that also helped me understand how to make myself big and not make my move till the very last movement.”
The ISL has provided Amrinder another learning curve. The experience to play in front of a sizable crowd has taught him a lot about handling pressure if and when he makes his national team debut, he said.
The 24-year-old has already led the under-23 national team and has been on the radar of national coach Stephen Constantine. But the presence of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who plies his trade in Norway, and the experienced Subrata Paul in the Indian line-up means he will have to bide his time to get a chance.
“Frankly, I am not thinking of that part and only concentrating on improving my game,” he said. “I am 24 and there is a lot to learn and improve. I feel that if I can stay fit and agile I can even play till I am 40.
“I have a lot of time in hand.”