National team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu on Monday said he hoped his Arjuna Award will serve as an inspiration to those trying to make a career out of football in India.
Gurpreet is the 26th footballer to win an Arjuna.
Gurpreet, who spent his formative years in the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) Centre of Excellence in Goa, holds the distinction of being the only Indian to have played in the UEFA Europa League (qualifier) while representing Norwegian club Stabaek in June 2016.
"I am thrilled and honoured to be named for the Arjuna Award. I want this recognition to serve as an inspiration to everyone playing the sport in the country. My joy will then be complete," Gurpreet, one of the youngest ever to captain India, said.
Gurpreet is the fourth goalkeeper to have been named for the award, the previous ones being Subrata Paul (2016), Brahmanand Sankhwalkar (1997) and the late Peter Thangaraj (1967).
AIFF president Praful Patel congratulated Gurpreet on being conferred the award.
"Gurpreet's composure has been such a remarkable hallmark in Indian football in recent years. You fully deserve this award. We are extremely proud of you. Keep the flag flying high. Congratulations," Patel said.
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said, "Gurpreet epitomises the new breed of an Indian footballer. He started under the AIFF youth development set-up, moved to Europe where he improved himself as a player, and is now a role-model for so many youngsters. He is a deserving recipient."
"This is also an award of recognition for Indian football."
Over the years, Gurpreet has emerged as one of the Blue Tigers' top performers. He has also represented India at U-19 and U-23 level.