India has just hosted its first ever World Cup, albeit an Under-17 one. It had turned out to be a massive success. But as far as India’s own performance was concerned, it was disastrous to say the least. Having scored just a solitary goal and conceding nine in the process, India had been knocked out of the tournament in the group stages itself.
But if there was one boy in that Indian team who could hold his head high and look at everyone eye to eye, it was Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem. Yes, the goalkeeper who had conceded an astonishing nine times in the tournament. But it was not about the goals that he had conceded, because there was little he could have done to prevent them from going in. Rather, it was about the goals that he had stopped. His cat like reflexes, extraordinary acrobatics and jaw dropping saves had become the talk of the country. Anyone who had watched him play was in awe of the young lad. Some were astonished. Some left mesmerized. Some spellbound. The young custodian had everyone on their feet and got plaudits not only in India but from the whole of the Footballing World. Some footballing pundits even went to the extent of labeling him as the best player in the tournament in his respective position.
And as Indians, it was a matter of great pride for us. We were thinking that we might just have found our very own Manuel Neuer or David De Gea and our expectations from the lad were sky high.
But fast forward 3 years and it is not turning out to be like how we had once anticipated. Leave about playing for big European clubs, Dheeraj is right here in India, warming the benches at ATK.
So, what exactly went wrong for the soon to turn 20 year old lad who had the nation gasping for breath a couple of years back?
Well, Nothing. Nothing except the fact that the current ATK coach Antonio Lopez Habas prefers a more experienced campaigner under his goal in the form of 30 year old Arindam Bhattacharya. Dheeraj has possibly done little to no wrong in the last 3 years. He has possibly done everything to make his dream of playing at the top level in Europe come true. But luck, as luck would have it, hasn’t been kind to him.
Let’s have a look at the career of Dheeraj Singh after the Under 17 World Cup.
After the FIFA under 17 World Cup got over, Dheeraj signed for the AIFF Developmental side Indian Arrows and played six games for them. Once again, he impressed one and all with his performances under the bar. It’s one thing to play against your own age group players but it’s a different challenge altogether to play with players almost double your age and size in the premier league of the country and Dheeraj lived upto his billing of a fascinating talent.
After his stint in the I-League, Dheeraj made the much anticipated movie of trying out in Europe and chose Scotland’s Motherwell FC as his desired destination. After rigorous trials day in and day out for nearly three months, the coaches at Motherwell FC were so impressed with Dheeraj that they offered him a 3 year contract. This news spread like wildfire and the happiness of Indian fans knew no bounds. After all, it’s not everyday that a young 18 year old Indian chap manages to bag a 3 year contract at one of the premier clubs of Europe.
But the happiness was short lived. Failing to obtain a work permit, Dheeraj did not manage to start his career at Motherwell FC and had to return to India in search of greener (albeit not so green) pastures.
After coming back, he signed for the Kerala Blasters. He was their first choice keeper for the majority of the 2018-19 Indian Super League season and put in some solid performances. He played a total of 14 games during the season, which was pretty decent for a youngster playing his first season of the ISL. Impressed by his performances for Kerala, ATK offered him a handy financial package to go along with a 5 year contract and brought him to their shores. And since then, its the shores (benches) where he has remained. Given the hype around his signing, everyone expected him to be the first choice keeper for ATK but this has not been the case so far.
And it is indeed alarming to see a keeper of Dheeraj’s stature, who is good enough to bag a 3 year contract with Motherwell FC and impress the scouts of AFC Bournemouth– a Premier League club, warming the benches at ATK, playing a meagre 90 minutes all season. Such lack of playing time is not only harming Dheeraj’s career but it also means that India is possibly destroying one of its finest ever prospects.
Talking about the next season, Arindam Bhattacharya’s performance in the last season means that he has surely retained his spot as the ATK number 1 for the next season. A 5 year contract also means that Dheeraj cannot join any other club without a transfer fee.
So what next for Dheeraj Singh?
Either he can secure a loan move to a club where he gets regular playing time or he can go out for trials once again, this time at places where there are no work permit issues- for example- countries like Norway, Germany and France. Even top level Asian clubs would be more than happy to have a goalkeeper of Dheeraj’s calibre in their ranks.
This is the time for Deeraj to learn.
This is the time when getting playing time is of paramount importance for his development.
This is the time that will shape his career.
This is the time which will decide whether Dheeraj goes on to become a star that nobody in India has ever become before or just be one of those stories of ‘WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN’.
This is Dheeraj’s time to make a move and the move that he makes now will have some serious implications as far as his career is concerned.
The time is now, Dheeraj. Make the best possible move. We all wish that you are successful in whatever you do.
One thing is for certain– Dheeraj Singh is a Star, a Star that India desperately needed and a Star that will take India to great heights. We have seen him take Baby Steps into Football. Its time now that we see him making a GIANT LEAP.
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