Feyenoord midfielder, Harmeet Singh, talks exclusively to www.vaishalibhardwaj.com about his career so far. Among other topics, Singh speaks frankly about beginning his career in impressive style with Norwegian club Vålerenga to struggling to make a mark at Dutch giants Feyenoord. The 23-year-old also talks about his desire to break into the Norway senior squad and his honour at receiving the Special Recognition accolade at the 2013 Asian Football Awards.
Your story about how you signed for Vålerenga is an interesting one. How did your football journey with the Norwegian club begin?
My brother was playing there [Vålerenga] and I was playing for a local team, Furuset IF. One time, my brother was watching an international game, Norway against Holland, and I went to his training with his friend just to join in and have fun. I did really well and the coach of that team, who was going to take over another team at Vålerenga, wanted me to join [the club]. I arrived there when I was 12 or 13.
Did you know then that you wanted to pursue a career in professional football?
To be honest, at that time, if someone asked me what I wanted to be, I always said I want to be a football player. I had football in my mind since I was young. I started to play when I was five and I was always playing football outside on the streets. It was all about using the body – not only football but basketball too. Football was something I loved, though.
You played in a deep-lying role at Vålerenga. What, in your opinion, is your best position?
I’ve read a lot [in the media] that I play in defensive midfield but I’ve been playing box-to-box. I think I’m better offensively than defensively so I am a more offensive midfielder – more box-to-box. I prefer attacking, giving assists, scoring goals and also working in defence. I like to play in one of the two in midfield by getting the ball and involving myself as much as I can.
You said previously that in Norway, the clubs naturally favour homegrown players of Norwegian descent. You also said that you had to work 10 times as hard to succeed in Norway because your heritage is Indian. Why do you think that is?
I think that is because of their parents. [Other players] have parents who are always at the games and always talking with the coaches just so the kids can get favours. Not everyone is like that though – some coaches and some players I’ve played with, who are born to Norwegian parents, they can be really good. But, some of them who are normal have got favours. That is normal.
As a player with a different background you have to work harder – maybe 10 times harder – but if that is what it takes to make it as a football player, you’ve just got to do it.
You’ve been dubbed the Norwegian Andrés Iniesta by the media but you’ve said before that you don’t want to be like any other player, you want to be yourself…
I want to be me. I want to be Singh. I want to be Harmeet. I want to be a role model for the players from India. It’s always nice to get comparisons with other players, but, I don’t like that. I put more pressure on myself than others do. When someone says that about me [makes comparisons with Iniesta], it’s positive. Iniesta is on a different level, though, so I keep my feet on the ground.
How would you describe your playing style and abilities?
I’m a player that is addicted to having the ball. I always look to find space, and I have a creative mind. My football challenges are strong and I’m technically gifted as well as having a good shot [on goal]. I try and create chances and score goals. I’m an offensive and attacking player. I like to be involved with the game as much as possible so I can decide every movement.
Which players inspire you?
I’ve always been inspired by many players. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo from Brazil – he was one player who really inspired me – Zinedine Zidane, Iniesta and Paul Scholes. These are big players who I always looked up to.
When I was young I was not thinking so much about the position that I wanted to play in but more what I saw on TV, and that time, I saw mostly Ronaldo or Zidane. It was about going on the pitch, learning the tricks, making it your own and getting influence and inspiration from them. It’s about watching and learning.
How did you feel when Pep Guardiola praised you after a friendly game against Barcelona in 2010 – a match in which you scored a goal?
I was really humbled and thinking it was nice. It’s always nice to get praise when you have good games. You learn from it but then forget it because it’s about another day, another time, another goal. I don’t think so much about it [those comments]. It was a big moment, but, now I’m thinking more about the future and what I want to create. It’s been almost three years since I played against Barcelona so now it’s just about establishing myself in the European leagues.
Norway reached the semi-finals of the 2012 UEFA U21 European Championship. You scored a last-gasp goal against Israel during the competition. What did you learn from that tournament?
I learned a lot. I learned that you have to be patient about your chance. I was playing all of the qualification games with Norway, and all of a sudden, when we had our first game against Israel, I was on the bench. I was really disappointed, but, it’s about using your mental strength and being positive and just sticking to the team.
The tournament feeling was really nice – just being at such a big tournament is nice. I learned about being patient and when you get your chance, take it. When I got the chance, I took it [with a goal against Israel]. It was a decisive goal and it was important for us.
The next game, I was in and played against England. When you play with the best players in your group and your age, it’s always good to see that I’m there and I’m not far away.
Do you think you can establish yourself in the Norway senior team in the future?
I haven’t thought so much about that because I’m thinking more about where I am at the moment. At this moment, I am thinking of establishing myself in a team in the European leagues. I know that right now it’s difficult at Feyenoord because we’re doing really well, and they have their own players that maybe they want to use.
Me, I have to work really hard to get into the team but if that doesn’t work, hopefully I can go to another team and establish myself. And then when I am playing, there will be a really good chance to get into the senior Norway national team.
Asian Football Awards 2013
How did it feel to receive the Special Recognition Award at the 2013 Asian Football Awards?
I didn’t think so much about it until I arrived [on the day of the awards ceremony]. I think it’s always nice to get recognition for something that you do because this is my desire and my love. To always know that you can get praise for what you do is nice. It’s more for my uncles and my family – they are happier than me – but I’m really delighted for the award.
I don’t think so much about my background or where I’m from but as I grow older and experience more in the football life, I see that I am a really important person for a lot of kids. So, I’m really humbled and it gives me more motivation and also inspires me a lot.
How important is it, in your opinion, that the Asian players in football right now are praised and given more exposure through awards such as the Asian Football Awards?
It’s always nice because then you can put the focus more on certain people and certain things. For neutral people who don’t know about [Asians in football] they will then know about it. I didn’t know about this award until my agent got an email but it’s nice what they do in the community. It’s positive that they can bring Asians in certain directions towards football because football is huge and we can make it bigger.
What needs to happen to encourage more Asian players to pursue a career in football?
Just having the right role models. If you have someone who has maybe the same name as you or maybe the same background, then you see that he can make it. Like me, I got inspired from other big players, and people will get inspired from you if you keep doing what you’re doing. It’s about having those role models and giving them praise.
Sometimes, when I get text messages or emails from people in India, it’s big for me that people I don’t know have sent me emails because they’ve been watching me play football or saw me score a goal against Israel. It’s about having role models, and for kids, seeing that it’s possible to make it.
Were there any other clubs who were interested in you before you decided to move to Feyenoord?
I had interest from teams, but at that moment, it felt right to go there. In football, you never know. You have to believe in what you feel there and then and make the right decision by what you think and feel.
You said in a previous interview that you had always thought about playing in Holland especially because of the country’s reputation for developing young players. What were your aims, in terms of your development, when you signed for Feyenoord?
I’m an ambitious guy and always set myself big goals. I said to myself that I want to break through in that team and I want to play. I thought they brought me because I was going to play. But, things do not develop always as you want so it’s about getting the chance and having someone who believes in you. They had other players who they believed in more so there is nothing I can do about it. The only thing I can do is learn from it and try and make a better decision next time.
What did you make of your first season with Feyenoord?
It was hard in the case that I was working hard and I was performing well, but, still it was difficult for me to get the chance. I grew a lot, though, and I am a better player now.
I’ve taken more steps to develop myself as a football player. But, when you play regularly every Sunday in a high competition like for Feyenoord you will take huger steps. I’ve been taking smaller steps in the right direction, though. Now the most important thing for me is playing time – that’s what I am working towards now.
Why do you think you haven’t started a game or played so far this season?
There are always a lot of reasons for this, but, you’ve always got to believe in yourself and respect the way things are. If the coach would like to play some other players and the team is doing well then OK, it’s not a problem. Sometimes life is hard, sometimes life is easy but it’s about learning on the way. What I’m doing now is learning. I’ve grown to be a better player and also a better man. I know what I have to do. I never complain about it, but, sometimes it’s about getting the chance.
You said recently that if you do not get playing time and confidence, it will not be possible to stay at Feyenoord. Do you want to leave in the January transfer window?
If I’m playing there [at Feyenoord] then I will stay. At this moment, I’m not playing so I’m going to leave in January. That’s for sure. I hope they will allow me [to leave].
Have you spoken with the club about this? What did they say?
They know my situation and know what I want. We will see what happens. In football you never know. I can’t say anything right now – I just want to focus and work hard and do well in training. It’s difficult for me because I’ve got to stick by myself and be strong.
What happened with your loan move to NEC Nijmegen last summer? Why do you think Feyenoord didn’t allow you to move clubs?
It was a lot of factors. They didn’t want to loan me out to another Dutch club. It was frustrating, but, what can you do? It’s always difficult and you’ve just got to accept it.
Have you had interest from any clubs?
I know that I have something, but, I don’t know 100% for sure. My agent knows but we will wait and see what comes. The most important thing is to go to a club where I can play – that’s my first priority – and then the second priority for me is to make it into the senior Norway team.
Are there any leagues in particular that you would like to move to?
I’m just thinking about playing time, but, I hope it can be in a good league. It has to be a team where the coach believes in me and I can do well. I always liked the Spanish and French leagues, but, also England. These are three leagues that I really like.
Do you have any clubs that you want to play for?
I have my clubs – I have my dream club but I don’t want to say because it’s just a dream!
Interview: Vaishali Bhardwaj