The sight of Amrinder Singh's 6'1" frame gracefully sailing through the air in slow-motion, with his immaculate top-knot swaying ever so gently, is something fans of the Indian Super League have become well-accustomed to seeing on television screens across the country. His gravity-defying saves and dependable hands have made him the bane of strikers across the country, and for the past four seasons, he has been a regular fixture in goal for Mumbai City FC.
Amrinder Singh in action for Mumbai City FC. Image courtesy: ISL
At the moment, Amrinder is one of the best goalkeepers in the country, but he began his journey as a footballer a lot further up the field, playing the role of a striker. In fact, had it not been for a very astute coach of his, Amrinder could very well have never taken up the goalkeepers' gloves at all.
"When I was starting off in football, I played as a striker. But the academy I was at in Punjab had very good strikers, so I wasn't getting to play much. I hated sitting on the bench, so when a coach of mine told me I could become a goalkeeper, I immediately put on the gloves and got in goal. I began keeping halfway through that season, and towards the end of it, I got my chance to play. I did surprisingly well, and almost within no time, I was playing for the Punjab team," said Amrinder, in a chat with Firstpost.
Punjab to Pune
The shot-stopper's performances made him a mainstay in the Punjab state team, but an opportunity to make a transition into club football looked unlikely to materialise any time soon. After consulting with fellow footballer Asim Hassan's father, the young goalkeeper decided to attend trials at Pune Football Club, over a 1000 kilometres away from his hometown of Mahilpur. "At the time, I didn't think about it too much, I just grabbed my chance and decided to go. I was in Pune for over ten days, and I did the best I could, after which I was selected for their U-19 team. They told me to come back after a month, and on the very first day I returned, I was told that I would get to train with the senior squad."
Once he made his way into the senior team, there was no looking back for Amrinder. His first break came in the Federation Cup in 2011, where he replaced the injured Subrata Pal, but it would be a while before he became Pune's first-choice keeper, with back-up keeper Shahinlal Meloly keeping him on the bench for another year. The 2013-14 campaign was when he truly announced himself, making 31 appearances for the club across all competitions, including an impressive five-game streak without conceding a single goal.
The next season saw more of the same from the talented young goalkeeper, earning him his first loan move to the fledgeling Indian Super League, where he played for champions ATK in the 2015 season. With Amrinder in goal, ATK went on to qualify for the playoffs that season, where they were beaten by eventual winners Chennaiyin. His stint at ATK was brief, spanning just 13 matches, but by his own admission, it was one of the best decisions of his career. "By the time I went to ATK, one season of the ISL had already come and gone, so it was a new experience for me. I really wanted to play in that league, there were so many huge stars who were in the ISL at that time. I really wanted to show the world what Amrinder Singh could do, and I think I've achieved that."
"I'm the type of person who's never scared to ask questions. I don't care who it is, I try to learn from everyone. I'm not ashamed of this, it doesn't matter whether I'm asking someone much older for help, or if it's a junior of mine."
This sentiment, which has appeared time and again over the course of Amrinder's career, has helped the goalkeeper throughout his career, and it stood him in good stead after his spell at ATK.
As can be expected of a young footballer in his prime, Amrinder had an abundance of options to choose from at the time, but after consultations with the people near and dear to him, there was only one destination in his mind. "After leaving ATK, I had offers from a few other clubs, so I thought I'd discuss it with some senior players. I spoke to a lot of people. I spoke to Sunil Chhetri, he and everyone else told me that if I wanted to develop as a player, I had to go to Bengaluru. Yes, there was more money involved in other offers, but I knew what I had to do."
" Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) April 24, 2016
Amrinder packed his bags and moved down South to the burgeoning Bengaluru FC, who had recently burst out onto the Indian football scene, winning an I-League title in their debut season. The club had big aspirations, as did Amrinder. Major trophies had as yet eluded the young goalkeeper. That was all about to change, and quickly.
In his very first season at the club, Bengaluru lifted their second I-League trophy, and Amrinder played a key role in the squad. Apart from the league trophy, Amrinder's exploits also earned him the I-League Goalkeeper of the Year award. The following year did not yield any major trophies to speak of, but Amrinder was still impressive, playing 17 games across all competitions and earning himself a move to Mumbai City FC, where he would go on to become a bona fide star.
In his time at Mumbai, Amrinder has played 54 matches, and is second in the league's all-time list of most saves made, with a very respectable 205 over the course of four-and-a-half seasons. But for Amrinder, it's more than just a team. It's family. "When I came to Mumbai City FC, Sunil Chhetri was here, there were some more people I knew, there were some great people I met. I did well in my first season, and we reached the semi-final, so I made the decision to stay here. I have a feeling of family here, I'm glad I made the decision to come here."
Playing under manager Jorge Costa for the past couple of years, Amrinder's Mumbai City side qualified for the playoffs in the 2018-19 season, and have continued to develop as a team in the current season. When asked about the influence of the Portuguese coach, Amrinder said, "Jorge Costa is one of the best managers I've worked with. He's been a player at the highest level, he knows what players need to hear, what they need to be told. He knows the importance of maintaining a good atmosphere in the club, and because of that, we feel like a family."
After the departure of long-time captain Lucian Goian before the start of the season, and a recent injury to Paulo Machado, Amrinder has taken up the captain's armband for the Islanders in recent weeks. Currently fifth in the table, with just six more games left, Mumbai are staring at an uphill battle, but Amrinder isn't too worried. "I do feel like I've taken on more responsibility since I became the captain this year, but I'm not worried, because we're better as a team and as a group. We all fight together, on and off the pitch and have each other's backing. We're going to give everything we have."
Playing for India
While Amrinder has consistently been one of the ISL's best goalkeepers for a while, breaking into the Indian team has been difficult, in large part due to the presence of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Amrinder's outings in the national shirt have been few and far between, with just four appearances, two of which came in India's forgettable outing at the Intercontinental Cup in 2019.
However, this hasn't disheartened the 26-year-old, who is confident his opportunity will come when the time is right. "I've always worked as hard as I could to get into the Indian team. Yes, Gurpreet is the first-choice keeper now, but he is very close to me, he's like a brother. We always talk about things, discuss each other's game and try to work together to get better. I want him to do as well as possible, and I'm sure he wants the same for me."
"I'll just keep training hard, doing what I'm doing, and when I get the chance, I'll do my best to take it."