This story is part of a CNN series I wrote and produced on the Indian diaspora around the world. Read the stories here.
Footballer Harmeet Singh wants to inspire other Indians to get onto the pitch.
Born and raised in Oslo, Norway, of Indian parents and once hailed by Spanish coach Pep Guardiola, the 28-year-old midfielder has been dubbed by some European media outlets as the “Norwegian Iniesta.”
“My name can relate to millions of people in India and all over the world. When they (Indian youths) see their name, they will be proud, and say, ‘Hey, I want to be like Singh,'” he says.
Singh attributes his strong work ethic to his parents’ hard graft when they moved from Ludhiana, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, to Norway in the 1980s.
His mother juggled her time, taking care of her children while working in a canteen and learning to speak Norwegian. His father held down three jobs: gardening, working in a pizza restaurant and driving a taxi.However Singh wasn’t the easiest child to raise.
Around the age of four, Singh’s grandparents enrolled him in a school at Ludhiana in hopes he would learn discipline.But after a year, he returned to live with his parents in Oslo’s Sentrum district, kicking a ball around in a playground near Bislett Stadium close to his home. It wasn’t long before he went from playgrounds to stadiums.
Singh’s family has fully supported him in his career. His mother would pack his breakfast and his father drove him to games. Other relatives attended his early matches and screamed their support so loudly that he had to ask them to keep quiet, he recalls, laughing.
Aged 14, he signed with the Norwegian team Valerenga. The central midfielder went on to represent Norway at youth level from the age of 15 until he was 21, debuting for the senior team in 2009. A goal he scored in the Norwegian Football Cup was nominated as Goal of the Year in the country.
‘I would choose India’
He has also played for clubs in Holland and Denmark and now appears for Finland’s HJK Helsinki, the Finish league’s reigning champions.
Despite the opportunities he’s had in Europe, Singh would play for India if given the chance.
“It was nice to play for Norway. But if the chance to play for India was there, I would probably choose India, because I could do more for India.” India, however, doesn’t allow dual nationality.
One of his ambitions is to open a football school in India. He believes that sharing European experiences of the game with aspiring Indian footballers is imperative because “the Indian league is not comparable to the leagues in Europe”.
‘It was harder for me than white players’