With Robert Lewandowski on hand to improve his shooting technique and Philippe Coutinho helping perfect his passing, New Zealand’s Sarpreet Singh is relishing learning from some of the world’s best at Bayern Munich since he made history on his Bundesliga debut.
The 20-year-old New Zealander, whose parents hail from a village in the Punjab region, became the first player of Indian descent in the Bundesliga with a second-half cameo in Bayern’s 6-1 thumping of Werder Bremen last month.
Having also been an unused sub in the Champions League home win over Tottenham a few days earlier, it was his first appearance at Munich’s imposing Allianz Arena stadium.
“It was a dream come true for someone from an Indian background, who grew up in New Zealand,” he told reporters at a media event in Munich.
“It was a special moment and hopefully I can inspire the next generation of kids to work hard and hopefully push on to bigger and better things.”
Singh’s journey to Munich started as a child playing football at Auckland’s Onehunga Sports club.
His raw talent was spotted by Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand’s only professional club in the Australian league, so he moved to the capital at the age of 15 to join their academy.
After progressing through the ranks, Singh eventually helped Phoenix reach the A-League play-offs last season.
His eye-catching performances for New Zealand at May’s Under-20 World Cup in Poland, where the junior All Whites reach the last 16, attracted Bayern’s scouts.
He joined the German giants’ reserve team in July for 650,000 euros ($717 ,216) with the left-footed attacking midfielder signing a three-year deal.
The plan was for him to bulk up and settle in, but after scoring four goals and creating seven more in 15 games for Bayern’s reserves, he was promoted to the senior squad in December and his German league debut followed.
“My footballing journey has been a crazy one so far, but I have enjoyed the ride,” he said.
– ‘Lots of hard work’ –
Singh still has much to learn in his quest for more game time in the senior team.
An over-zealous tackle earned him a straight red card in a reserve team match just before Christmas.
He says Bayern’s Germany stars Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich, both still only 24, have helped him feel at home, but the main difference is the attention to detail expected at one of Europe’s top clubs.
“I have learned to be a professional. At this level, it’s not easy — these guys didn’t become what they are without lots of hard work,” he said.
“Everything is a lot more specific, you know what you need to do, what to eat.
“To enhance your performance, you have to do everything right off the pitch, so I am always looking to try to improve my body.
“Watching them play, and playing alongside, these guys is a dream come true, but I have to push and compete with them and try to add all that to my game.”
Singh says he pays particular attention to Bayern’s record-scoring Polish striker Lewandowski, who has 21 goals in 19 league games this season, and Brazilian playmaker Coutinho, who is on loan from Barcelona.
“He (Lewandowski) is an absolute goal-scoring machine and I am able to learn about what part of the foot he uses, at what time,” said Singh.
“It comes down to minor details and it is all about decision making.
“If I am looking at Coutinho, I am watching what he does in tight spaces and how he gets out of them.
“As a Number 10, so there is no one better than him to learn from.”
Lewandowski tops the goal scoring chart of the German Bundesliga with 21 goals.