If 2020 had been progressing as scheduled, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu would have been putting his feet up for a week after the completion of India's 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifying games, before pushing himself hard physically over the remaining off-season through to July.
"I personally try to work on my physicality. That's what I have been doing for the last two-three years. This [year] feels like a very long pre-season," says Sandhu from Sydney, as he prepares his vegan dinner of tempeh [fermented soya bean] with sesame spinach salad. He has been working hard to stay fit, and appears regularly as an expert on Facebook's coverage of the tight La Liga title race finish between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It's not been all fun and games, though, for Sandhu, who has been in Sydney since mid-March during the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak. In mid-May, as Australia began reopening parts of the country, Bengaluru FC teammate Erik Paartalu, also a Sydney resident, started training outdoors with Sandhu.
"Over here in Australia, there are so many pitches -- you can just go on one and train. No one stops you," says Sandhu. "We tried to find the pitch where there were very few people, so that we have space. It's a huge pitch. You can have two proper football pitches in that area, and we just go out there, get a session in, and then back [home]."
What doesn't help is that there are no definite timelines yet for competitive football to begin in India. The national domestic schedule has been chalked out from August 1 to May 2021, but the Indian Super League (ISL) isn't expected to begin until October at the earliest. India's rescheduled qualifier against Qatar at home is also pencilled in for October 8, and this makes the pacing of all training important.
"I try to train out on the pitch two to three times a week, and since the gyms are open, I go to the gym as well and try to get some fitness training done," says Sandhu, who has won the Golden Glove in the ISL for successive seasons now. "Right now, because I am fortunate to be training, I have to keep in mind that I don't overdo it. So what I do is, for two weeks I go hard, almost every single day, and then I take a weekend off. That's how I try to pace it."
Communication with his teammates back home has been minimal, says Sandhu, though he took notice of captain Sunil Chhetri's social media posts about training at the Inspire Institute of Sport earlier in the month. "Some of the people, like Rahul Bheke and Kean Lewis in Mumbai, they've started to come out a little bit. Sandesh Jhingan is in Chandigarh, but I have not been able to talk to any single player.
"It's weird. We don't have an answer on when things will come back to normal, and when will we start competing, because things are still pretty bad in India. You can't really do much regarding sports in this kind of situation, because our sport needs all locations of India. Teams are based everywhere, and some of the locations are hit hard, so you can't resume play."
In the meantime, it's his friendship with Paartalu, one of BFC's most consistent performers in recent seasons, that keeps him going.
"If Erik wasn't there, and if I wasn't there for Erik, it would have been not that easy," says Sandhu. "Especially for me, because I am not from Australia. He has his trainers, so I have that connection, and I have been able to use that to my advantage."