Sarpreet Singh believes learning the tricks of the trade from Robert Lewandowski and Philippe Coutinho, and being schooled in the demanding Bayern Munich environment will help make him a success in Germany, he told bundesliga.com in an exclusive interview.
The New Zealand international came off the bench to make his Bundesliga debut for Bayern in the Hinrunde, and hopes that with some of the game's finest forwards to learn from, he can make a major impact with the record German champions.
Question: Could you describe your football journey and how your life has changed since signing for Bayern Munich?
Sarpreet Singh: "My football journey has been a crazy one so far, but I've enjoyed the ride. Basically, I started out as a young kid in Auckland and was in academy programmes. When I was about 15, I decided to move down to Wellington to join the only professional club in the country, the Wellington Phoenix, and from then on I just tried to play as many games as I could there. I had a good U20 World Cup and was picked up by Bayern."
Question: Were you told before the Bremen game on Matchday 15 that you would come off the bench to make your Bundesliga debut?
Singh: "The coach is never going to tell you if you're going to come on or not before a game. For me, it's like any other game I play. I don't change my routines or anything like that. It's important to be consistent, so I prepared in the same way as I have done for every other game in my career. That will never change. For me, it was an amazing feeling to make my debut. It was a dream come true. For someone of Indian background, growing up in New Zealand, it's quite a big moment, a special moment, and hopefully I can inspire the next generation of kids to work hard and push on to bigger and better things."
Watch: What Singh is learning from Lewandowski
Singh: "Basically, I've learned what it takes to be a professional at this level. It's not easy. These guys don't become who they are without hard work. To be able to learn from the world's best players is really special. I continue to work hard and try and be like them. To have them in the dressing room, watch them play games, and play with them, is a dream come true, but at the same time, I'm here now, I have to try and push and compete with them. But I learn lots every day from these sorts of guys, and I try and add all that into my game."
Question: Is there anything specific you've picked up from training with Lewandowski?
Singh: "He knows how to score goals! His record is incredible, he's an absolute goalscoring machine. For me, it's great to learn about which part of the foot he uses and at what time in which situation, it does come down to specific small details like that. It's all about decision making. With Coutinho, I'm looking at what he does in tight spaces, how he scans over his shoulder and gets out of tight situations. I play number 10 too, so there is no-one better to learn from than Coutinho."
Question: How different is the environment at Bayern compared to that at Wellington? Which player has helped you adapt the most?
Singh: "Bayern are, obviously, one of the world's biggest and best clubs, so there is a huge difference between them and Wellington, but I'm grateful to both. Being at Wellington, it showed me what I needed to do and how I needed to work. Having come to Bayern, things are now a lot more specific. You know what you need to do before training, after training, how you eat…everything to be a professional footballer.
"The most important thing is your performance on the field, but to enhance that, you have to do everything right off the field. You have top trainers in the coaching staff, and I'm always working hard and looking to speak to the trainers to try and improve my body and overall performance to be able to compete at this high level for many years to come, hopefully. The biggest differences are there are higher standards and there's more quality on the field too.
"Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry have both been very good to me. They've helped me adapt, and they still give me advice. They're easy to talk to, and they're the ones who have helped me settle into the first-team environment."
Question: Other teams seem to have closed the gap on Bayern this season. Do you think it's a good thing for the Bundesliga that there is so much competition now?
Singh: "For me, it doesn't matter. We just focus on ourselves and on doing the best job we can. For me, it's just about Bayern every single weekend and getting three points. We're a big club so the most important thing is to win every single game. I don't look too much at what's happening around. It's just about winning our games and that's all we need to worry about."
Question: Do you see more players from New Zealand making Germany their first-choice destination in Europe?
Singh: "Yes. It's hard to say for me where players will end up. It all comes down to how hard they work and how much they want it. You also have to have the right person watching at the right time. Germany has worked out for me, but we also have players in England and the Netherlands. I think it's possible for more players to come to Germany, and I hope they do, but it's really about where they can get their best opportunity.
"Everywhere is different. You have to think about which style suits you. Perhaps the Netherlands suits you in your younger stages of development more than Germany, so you'd go there, but it's important for me to see more New Zealand players playing in Europe."
Question: Have you managed to learn any German and how important will learning the language be in helping you settle?
Singh: "I do German lessons two to three times a week now. It's important for me to speak German as I'm in Germany. I'm starting to understand quite a lot now and my speaking is coming along. I'm learning from my teachers. It's important to learn the language to fit in with the culture and the people, and I'm doing my best to do that as quickly as possible."
Question: Do you think your emergence can inspire Indian kids to make their way in the game in Europe?
Singh: "Absolutely, it can show that it's possible, but it does come down to how hard you work and how badly you want it. For sure there are a lot of Indian players who are good players and they can get opportunities, but it's about trusting the process and sticking to your routine day in day out, because you can't just do it for one week, you have to do it for years and years.
"It's certainly possible, and what I hear from Roy [Krishna], the facilities are getting better, the standards are high in India, and they do similar training sessions to what we do here in Europe. So it's certainly possible in the future, and I hope I can be a good example for the kids in India and in New Zealand to be able to push, work hard, and follow their dreams. In life, anything is possible, you just have to work hard and make it yours."
Question: Do you still have family links to India?
Singh: "My parents are from a little village in the Punjab region. I grew up in an Indian family, so I did the same things as everyone else. I've been to India three times, and it's always good to go back and visit your roots. Growing up, I ate my mum's food, which is of course the best, and I know quite a lot about India. I speak Punjabi too to a certain degree."
Question: Do you keep track of Indian sport?
Singh: "We came over with the New Zealand national team to play India, which was quite special for me being from both backgrounds. I thought it was a good game. India won that tournament, they did well. There are a few boys that I've played with that play in India now and I keep in touch with them. They tell me about the league. It's good to see Indian football improving."
Question: What made you take up football and not cricket like most kids with Indian origins?
Singh: "I grew up playing all sorts of sports. My brother and my uncle played cricket and football. In New Zealand, that's what we do. When football started to take over, I followed that. For me, it was about trying to chase my dreams in football, and it's working out OK!"
Question: What was it like playing with Roy Krishna and David Williams, who now both play in India?
Singh: "Roy was named the best player in the league last year, and he and 'Willo' form a deadly partnership for ATK. You want your foreign players to bring the level up, and that's what they do. Roy was like a big brother for me at Wellington. He always looked after me, gave me advice, and tried to show me the way forward. I was trying to learn as much as possible from him. I often have conversations with both of them. I try to talk to them as much as possible, and Roy tells me it's a good league and everything is quite professional over there. It's always pleasing to hear things like that."
Question: What do you think the New Zealand team needs to do to reach the World Cup?
Singh: "I think we're on the right track. The players coming through and the set-up we have, it's going in the right direction. Hopefully in the future we can make the World Cup, I certainly believe that. The way we're playing, and the players that we're producing, they want to play good football, they're brave in possession.
"The coach is also trying to drive that, change the environment and the way we play, because we feel we've got the players now. We've got Winston [Reid], Woodsy [Chris Wood], Ryan [Thomas], players playing at a good level. I think it's possible for us to change how we play now, and I think that's happening in New Zealand too. We're on the right path, and hopefully you'll see us at the next World Cup."