In a wide-ranging interview, Wellington Phoenix academy graduate Sarpreet Singh talks about his football journey, culminating in signing his first professional contract with the Hyundai A-League club.
Q: Can you describe the feeling you have at signing your first professional contract for the Wellington Phoenix?
Sarpreet Singh: "It was a truly amazing feeling and just pure joy and happiness when I got told they wanted to sign me as a professional. It was easily one of the best moments in my life because that’s all I’ve ever dreamed of doing as I kid and to be able to live as a pro every single day is special and it means a lot to me.
"I know that becoming a pro is one thing and staying a pro is another challenge so it’s a big couple of years for me to keep developing and pushing on so I can have a successful career."
Q: You moved to Wellington as a 15 year old. What aspects of your development do you feel helped you with your transition to a new city and environment?
Sarpreet Singh: "I moved to Wellington just before my 16th birthday and moving away from home and all my family and friends was really challenging but deep down I knew that if I wanted to become a professional I would have to make sacrifices along the way and that was one of them.
"Having been with [Wellington Phoenix Soccer School] from a young age it has really helped shape me into the person I am today. As a kid I went on several overseas tours to places like Japan, England, Germany and many more countries with Miya and Leigh and looking back on those tours now it has really helped me develop. All the things I got taught then and didn’t really like doing back then are all natural now and for that I am grateful.
"My eating habits were really bad and I was real picky with what I wanted to eat and in the overseas tours I was taught how important nutrition is for a players condition and performance and now I appreciate what an important lesson that was to be able to eat well and with variety. Also doing little things off the field like keeping a diary of my day and how I played and now i watch my games back and analysing what I did well and what I could do better, I was prepared with these skills from a young age.
"Being at WPSS helped me adapt to moving to a different city by helping me become more mature and responsible. [Wellington Phoenix Football Academy] is similar so it was easier to settle in, everything done within the academies is linked to what the first team does so if you ever get the opportunity to train with the top team you are expected to understand roles and positions."
Q: Moving from WPSS to WPFA what new challenges did you face and what opportunities were you given in order to accelerate your development and to earn your professional contract?
Sarpreet Singh: "I guess at WPSS I was familiar with teammates and coaching staff. Going into a new environment was tough at first but everyone is pretty welcoming, being at WPSS made it easier to settle in at the WPFA as the training loads and training styles are similar which go all the way through to the first team and the reserve team.
"This makes it easier as you go through the age groups because you know what is expected of you and the type of trainings that take place have the same values all the way through. Moving from WPSS to the WPFA gave me the opportunity to go all the way through to the first team which is the only professional football team in the country which has helped accelerate my development immensely."
Q: What are you looking forward to the most as you now start your life as a professional footballer?
Sarpreet Singh: "It’s not an easy task becoming a pro footballer so I’m just very excited to see what its like being a pro and playing football for a job. There’s nothing else I’d rather do I’m really looking forward to the challenge ahead, making sure I’m training hard everyday to give myself the best opportunity to play making sure everything off the field is at a very high standard.
"I’m just wanting to now kick on to bigger and better things here at the club."
Q: What has been your inspiration that has driven you to get to this point in your career?
Sarpreet Singh: "Watching professional players on TV when I was younger really inspired me. I’ve always just wanted to be like them and to be able to do that now is a special feeling knowing that everything you have ever wanted is now there for you. Training with professionals like Kosta Barbarouses and Roly Bonevacia has really inspired me to try kick on and become a better player and person on and off the field."
Q: What advice can you give all the young players that are in the WPSS programme and are dreaming of playing professional football?
Sarpreet Singh: "My advice to anyone aspiring to become a professional footballer would be to first and foremost to enjoy playing the game and to always work hard and listen to your coaches. Always push yourslef to be the best player you can be at training and in games in order to keep progressing. Stay hungry and determined because you have to be really tough to survive."