- *Midfielder Sarpreet Singh is aiming to help New Zealand achieve new heights at this month’s FIFA U-20 World Cup *
- *The teenager received financial support and mentorship from New Zealand captain Winston Reid *
- *Singh says ‘playing professional football is all he ever wanted to do’ *
New Zealand youth international Sarpreet Singh was an impressionable ten-year-old when Winston Reid scored a famous last-gasp equaliser against Slovakia to earn the All Whites their first-ever point at a FIFA World Cup™. Now 18, Singh is well advanced down the path towards his own success in the game. And New Zealand’s South Africa 2010 hero Reid - the current senior national team captain - has played an important role in that journey.
As a starry-eyed youngster, Singh had two main dreams – becoming a professional footballer and wearing the national team colours. He is now on the verge of achieving both those ambitions within a matter of months, as New Zealand prepare for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which commences later this month in Korea Republic.
*Mentoring and friendship *
Singh was a scrawny schoolboy when his unexpected break came in the unlikely setting of Samoa. The then Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick picked out Singh during the 2015 U-17 World Cup qualifiers as being worthy of a spot in the club’s academy side. A rough diamond for sure, but one that could be polished to shine even brighter.
But then there was the problem of finance, and schooling. Raised in Auckland to Indian-born parents, Singh needed to move south to the capital. That was when Reid stepped in, as Singh and fellow teen Max Mata became beneficiaries of the first-ever Winston Reid scholarship.
“Winston Reid played a big part in that whole process,” Singh told FIFA.com. “He helped with the financial side of things, helping me go to school here [in Wellington] and set up a homestay. He looked after me with all that, for which I’m really grateful.
Since I started playing, all I ever wanted to be was a pro footballer and play for the national team, and I’m slowly working towards that.
“I haven’t actually met Winston in person, but we have Skyped and I still email him on occasions, if I need something. I can go straight to him, and I also have other people I can go to.”
A stylish attacking midfielder, Singh is well on the way to achieving his football aims. He recently made his senior debut for the Phoenix – New Zealand’s only professional club. It was an experience that was both gratifying and eye-opening. “The intensity is a lot higher, and your decision-making needs to be quicker, but I enjoyed it,” Singh said. “On one level, it is almost easier in a way, because more things open up for you.”
Dreams can come true
New Zealand have been drawn in an intriguing group for Korea Republic 2017, with Group E’s football mix as diverse as its cultural flavour. The Kiwis will tackle Vietnam and Honduras, before rounding out their group-stage commitments with a meeting against France.
New Zealand boast some solid results at U-20 World Cups in recent years, notably reaching the knockout round on home soil two years ago. They reprised that feat a few months later at the U-17 World Cup, where it took a somewhat unlucky 1-0 defeat against Brazil to suffer elimination in the Round of 16 – a team Singh was part of.
Singh believes that experience at Chile 2015 will stand the side in good stead when they enter the heat of battle in Korea Republic. Darren Bazeley’s side is also well stocked with senior internationals - Clayton Lewis, Henry Cameron, Dane Ingham, Moses Dyer and Logan Rogerson among them.
“Getting that exposure to the world stage obviously stands me in good stead, as it does all players that have played at that level," said Singh. “There is nothing to be scared of. We know what a threat they [our opponents] can be, but as long as we prepare well, we should be OK.”
Singh’s schoolboy day-dreaming from back in 2010 seems a long time ago now, but the 18-year-old is aware of the significance. “It is the kind of thing you dream of as a kid,” he said. “To actually do that, really is a dream come true.
“Since I started playing at a young age, all I ever wanted to be was a pro footballer and play for the national team, and I’m slowly working towards that.”
Perhaps one day that will include playing in a World Cup alongside Winston Reid. What a story that would be.