Mumbai City FC and India goalkeeper Amrinder Singh has not had too much time to think about which Manchester City players he would love to share a dressing room with. The Indian Super League (ISL) side became the eighth club to come under the portfolio of the City Football Group (CFG), the parent company that also owns the 2018-19 Premier League champions, last November.
"I have never really given this a thought, but I like [Sergio] Aguero and [Kevin] De Bruyne. Of course, these are world-class players who operate on another level," says Amrinder, captain of Mumbai in the ISL. "If players like these could come and play in India, we would learn so much to improve ourselves -- how to prepare for games, and how to maintain ourselves."
City's willingness to help other teams in their portfolio is nothing new in itself. Notable names in global football that have played or managed CFG's teams outside England include Frank Lampard, and World Cup winners David Villa and Patrick Vieira. Singh himself got a taste of how rubbing shoulders with the best in the business can benefit Indian footballers, with former Uruguayan international Diego Forlan's arrival to Mumbai in 2016.
"He always approached every game with a positive outlook, and his professionalism stood out. He was a little overweight when he first landed in Mumbai, but till the time he was with us, I would see him at training in the mornings, and then in the gym every evening," remembers Amrinder of a season when Mumbai made the playoffs for the first time. Forlan led the attack with five goals, while Amrinder became the first Indian Golden Glove winner, a title that has passed along to Subrata Pal and then twice to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Despite his best efforts, though, Amrinder remains the number two in the national team to Sandhu, who has stayed remarkably consistent through a stint in Norway and then back with Bengaluru FC -- he pretty much replaced Amrinder as the club's number one when he transferred in for BFC's first ISL season in 2017-18. In the three years since his debut for India in 2017, Amrinder has just five caps, despite being a permanent fixture in the team.
"When I go into the national camp, I have never gone into the frame of mind that I am a number two goalkeeper. I have to work as hard as possible because I want to get that top place," he says. "I need to push Gurpreet as well, because if I start labeling him as number one and don't compete with him, it's harmful for everybody -- for me, Indian football and for Gurpreet himself."
It helps that the two are from Punjab, and more or less the same age. Sandhu is 28, while Amrinder is a year younger. "We are good friends, and we communicate with each other as colleagues, friends and brothers. We are very close and can point out little things in each other's games without hesitation," says Amrinder.
Mumbai's recent ISL campaign was a mixed one -- they narrowly failed to make the playoffs after a bright start, but key players suffered injuries that kept them out of games at a length. Former Portuguese international Jorge Costa ended his two-year reign as coach, and is likely to be replaced by FC Goa's former coach Sergio Lobera. The biggest headline out of the camp, though, was the CFG tie-up.
"We are really excited that such a big brand has come into Indian football, and we are privileged at Mumbai to be associated with them. Whatever we can learn from them as an organisation will benefit Indian football," says Amrinder. "And the motivation for any young Indian footballer will now be to come and play for Mumbai, because they might send their coaches here and work with our players."
And should Aguero or De Bruyne choose to come east in the near future, would Singh -- a Liverpool supporter who got hooked on to English football after the 2005 Champions League final -- still want to hold on to the captain's armband?
"That would be the coach's decision," he laughs. "I would personally want to learn how such top players lead the team.
"For me, that would be the best opportunity to learn what minor things I can tweak in my game."