Harmeet Singh is known as the Iniesta of Norway. The 32-year-old Norwegian, who was born in India, is one of the most influential footballers in Scandinavia, yet his heart throbs for India. Despite playing international football for Norway from the under-12 category to the senior level, Harmeet desperately wanted to represent India, yet his dual citizenship prevented him from doing so.
Harmeet, whose parents were from Ludhiana, felt that the struggle his parents went through while transporting their lives from the quiet Ludhiana to the bustling Oslo. Even the very basics of life were a big challenge during the transition, and that is what made Harmeet mentally and physically tough.
“Life was very different when we were in Ludhiana. Things were simpler and good, but it became very tough when we landed in Oslo. Practically everything was a challenge—the language, the weather, our eating habits, you name it. I think it’s the adversity that I faced in Oslo that contributed to who I am today,” said Harmeet.
For Harmeet’s father, Onkar, life was really tough. He had to juggle between three jobs: gardening, pizza delivery, and driving a cab. Harmeet rarely saw his father but, at the same time, realised the immense sacrifice he was making. “I rarely saw my father but realised how hard he was working to keep us. That’s when it dawned on me to do something that would make my parents happy and proud of me,” he said.
Harmeet decided to pursue football since he realised its popularity in Norway in particular and in Europe in general. “In India, I didn’t realise the popularity of football, but in Norway and Europe, it’s all about football. I also realised that the stars of the game enjoyed the popularity and glam, which prompted me to pursue a career in the sport,” he said.
In his father, Onkar, Harmeet found a rock-solid supporter and somebody who would do anything to fuel his son’s success. Even if it meant that Onkar had to bend himself backwards. “I can’t quite fathom the sacrifices made by my father. There are no words to describe it. I think I would not have been what I am today but for the self-belief and sacrifices made by my father in particular,” said Harmeet.
Onkar had to dig very deep to get Harmeet fully involved in the practise sessions—his mother Nishi had no lesser role to play as she was like a conveyor when it came to making food and packing it for the family members.
Harmeet made his first breakthrough when he managed to make it among the reserves of the Norwegian under-15 team. That was a big break and something that convinced Harmeet that he had it in him to become an international player. “The fact that I could make it to the under-15 national team made me convinced that I had it in me to make it to the highest echelons. I was determined to give it my best shot and ready to work 200 percent towards achieving my goals,” said Harmeet.
Soon Harmeet made the usual tough transition from juniors to seniors in a very smooth manner. Such was his talent that he got the nickname ‘Norwegian Iniesta’ after the famous Barcelona midfielder Anders Iniesta. And a person no less than the legendary Spanish Coach Pep Guardiola gave him something of.
More than anything, Harmeet was humbled by the tag of Norwegian Iniesta. “I am more lucky and fortunate that I got that tag from Guardiola. I don’t know what made him give me that name—Iniesta was one of my idols during my formative years,” said Harmeet.
On the field, Harmeet’s increasing prowess ensured that, apart from playing for Norway, a lot of clubs were showing interest in him. Dutch Club Feyernood showed a lot of interest in him and eventually bought him for a record 300,000 pounds sterling in 2012. After his experience with the Dutch Club, one of the top clubs in Europe, he was delighted to play alongside some of the leading Dutch players. “To play alongside the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie was like living a dream. It’s an experience I will never forget in my life,” said Harmeet. He was hoping for at least a five-year stint.
Unfortunately, due to some personal issues, Harmeet’s tenure at Feyernood was cut short, and he had to leave in a couple of years. In a way, the premature move by Feyernood had a bit of an adverse impact on his international career.
Thereafter, Harmeet returned to Norway, where he joined Molde Club on a free transfer. Around the same time, Spanish newspaper Bolon shortlisted him among the top 100 most talented young footballers in the world—something no Indian has achieved so far.
Around this time, Harmeet was seriously considering the idea of representing India. He contacted the AIFF, the Indian federation, but the dual citizenship clause went against him, and a disappointed Harmeet had to drop his plans for playing in Indian colours. “I must say I was very disappointed that I could never play for India, but then there are certain things over which one has no control,” he said.
Thereafter, Harmeet went on to play for many clubs across Europe, scoring many more goals. In fact, he is still active at the age of 32, playing for the Norwegian team Sandefjord.
What are his best memories? Without batting an eyelid, he says,” It was the goal against Barcelona that he scored in 2010 that remains his top draw. “I will always feel that my goal against Barca when they were by far the best team in the world will be etched in my memory for ever. Of course, there are moments also, but that has to be the best,” he signs off.