FC Goa’s custodian in goal Dheeraj Singh has undoubtedly had a scintillating outing at the AFC Champions League, during his debut season. This amazing stint has earned him a position in the senior national team and he has been called up for the World Cup Qualifiers that India will be playing at Doha. As of now, the squad is in a bio bubble in New Delhi, and they’re set to leave for Doha on the 20th of May. While in New Delhi, Dheeraj Singh managed to get on an Instagram Live with AIFF’s Instagram handle. The part that follows transcribes the interview.
Dheeraj on India producing so many good goalkeepers
“I feel most of the clubs have started playing Indian goalkeepers, which is an important part. When ISL started four or five years back, the clubs played foreign keepers, and now we have this opportunity where clubs are playing with Indian goalkeepers. Goalkeepers need to play regularly to gain confidence; also, training and playing matches are totally different. When you play matches as a keeper, you learn about different match situations. So, it is a good experience for goalkeepers to keep on playing the game, and that is one of the key reasons I think we have many good goalkeepers coming up. Also, the youth national team has good stoppers such as Nawaz, Gill. Having healthy goalkeeper competition is really useful, as we are never relaxed, and I as a player do not want to give away my place, so every day there is a strong competition. They push me, which enables me to grow individually and also helps us to grow as a team.”
Dheeraj on his favourite European and Indian goalkeeper
“My favourite goalkeeper would be Petr Cech. My favourite Indian keepers are Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Amrinder Singh.”
Dheeraj on his aims to play abroad
“Yes, obviously it is a dream which every young Indian player has, to play outside India in a bigger league. But I am still young, and I need to accept that I have many areas that I need to work on and improve. So, the first step is to improve my game, and if an opportunity comes, then I will surely grab it.”
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Dheeraj on his stunning performance in ACL
“We all knew the teams competing in ACL were really strong, and we were also aware of their performances. After ISL, I got a call-up from the Indian national team, which was really important for me. Initially, I was unaware that I received a call-up for the national team. However, the head coach of FC Goa messaged me, saying congratulations, you have been selected for the national team. It was a huge moment for me, and I was thrilled as it was right after the ISL; I got an opportunity to train with the national team in UAE for friendlies against Oman and UAE. This was huge, and it gave me a lot of motivation, plus I got the chance to train with Gurpreet and Amrinder. In addition, I was physically and mentally fit as it was right after ISL. Plus, the coach had my back, and he gave me the confidence to play without pressure our natural game. This undoubtedly enabled us to play well.
Dheeraj Singh on coach Henk Ten Cate’s words of praise
“It was during a difficult time of the match, and I had just been substituted. He came over and shook my hands. I could not speak much as my throat was hurting, but I managed to thank him for his inspiring words. Deep down inside, his praises delighted me but, I had a dejected look overall as I could not help my team in that game”.
Dheeraj Singh on FC Goa’s debut ACL campaign
“To begin with, the expectations were quite low, and people did not expect us to do that well. However, we were solid in the first two games, our approach was very tactical, and we were also very disciplined. This made it difficult for our opponents to break us down, and we deservingly got those two draws. Those draws helped us to gain confidence as we moved forward.” He also further went on to add the benefit of ISL and praised the league for taking Indian club football to new heights
Dheeraj Singh on his parents support and being an ambassador
“My parents and my family are my biggest support and motivation. When I was a kid, my parents were not too keen to put me into sports, as they had heard about various bad influences associated with it. Also, my neighbourhood did not have a pleasant reputation. However, things started to change when they saw me progressing well, and to date, they remain my biggest support.” He also echoed that, “Things have changed now there is a huge responsibility on players like me to change the mentality of parents and show them how sports can be beneficial. Nowadays, parents always ask me, after watching my performances on how can their ward compete and play at the same level just like me.”
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Dheeraj on being a modern-day goalkeeper
“Being a modern-day goalkeeper is a hugely challenging job. You not only need to be agile, but you also need to have the vision to receive the first pass. Your footwork is really crucial. I know I need to improve on that aspect, and I am working really hard, and hopefully, I would adjust to it accordingly.”
Dheeraj on how hard a goalkeeper’s job is
“It is a really tough job. People feel it is easy to stand and make few saves throughout the game, but the situation is totally different. A goalkeeper in today’s game is the first line of defence and the first line of attack. We need to be the fittest players on the squad and should be mentally switched on during the course of 90 minutes.” The Manipuri custodian also went on to add, “It is easy to blame the goalkeeper after a defeat, but we need to have a strong mental fortitude during games to take on defeat and also to respond to critics”.
Dheeraj on any external help such as meditation or exercise to prepare him mentally
“To be honest, I have never resorted to any such means such as meditation or exercises to keep me mentally strong in my zone. I just try to deal with the situation as and when it arises”.
Dheeraj’s opinion on remaining World Cup qualifiers and recently concluded international friendlies against Oman and UAE
“My viewpoint on the entire situation is a positive one as many players played their first game for the national team. More than ten players made their debuts, which is a huge thing. It also provided me added impetus and motivation to play with the players whom I grew up with, such as Suresh, Jackson and Amarjit.” He also mentioned, “The game against UAE was not so good, but we got more than one month to recover properly and be physically and mentally ready to take on the remaining games in the world cup qualifiers.” Further, he added, “Boys are really up for the challenge, and they are waiting for this opportunity to give their best and make the fans and nation proud.“
Dheeraj, on his free time
“I spend time with my friends, and I also love to drive cars and go for long drives whenever possible.”
Dheeraj on his favourite sport other than football
“I like Cricket and have also played other sports such as Badminton, Table Tennis and Volleyball. However, if given an option, I would choose Badminton as I am good at it. “
Dheeraj on how does he motivate himself during dire times
“It is a callous question and also hard to answer; I try to speak to my friends and family and divert my attention from the issue. I also speak to my old coach and take his advice on how to improve. Also, I watch videos of great goalkeepers and other motivational ones to keep me going.”
Dheeraj on his diet:
“Honestly speaking, I am still in a learning process when it comes to my diet. For breakfast, I have cut fruits, Oats, juices. For lunch, I consume boiled vegetables, grilled chicken and pulses.”
Dheeraj on short goalkeepers and how they should approach their game:
“To begin with, I won’t rate myself as a tall goalkeeper. I consider myself a short keeper. For a short keeper, you need to be quick with your reflexes and be good with your legs. Also, you need the ability to jump and fly and have strong power in your legs.”
Dheeraj on his biggest learning during his Motherwell F.C. stint:
“It was a good experience, and I enjoyed training with the boys and the club. I used to share the dressing room with the U-23 team, and my biggest takeaway has been to accept more responsibility. Because the U-23 team there used to carry all the equipment on the training pitch and clean the pitch after they completed training. However, here in India, all the professional clubs have a person appointed to carry this work.”