Dheeraj Singh has undoubtedly had a scintillating outing at the AFC Champions League during his debut season. This impressive 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. Currently, the squad is in a bio-bubble in New Delhi, and they will be leaving 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 Singh’s experience in bio-bubble
“It’s a totally different experience as you compare it to the usual one. And it’s not easy to stay inside bio-bubble for a very long time, almost a year. It isn’t easy. But there’s no other option as our safety is the prime concern. Although, most importantly, we’re getting matches and game time.”
Dheeraj Singh’s take on appreciations
“Obviously, it’s a good feeling. But it is just the starting of my career, and I don’t want to get carried away by that. I have a very long way to go. I’m very young, and I receive them as appreciation for all the hard work and effort that I have put in in the last four to five years. It also gives me the motivation to work harder and do well in my future.”
Dheeraj Singh has spent his youth career with the AIFF Elite Academy. Dheeraj Singh was a part of the Indian team that won the Under-15 SAFF tournament at Kathmandu. He was the youngest player in that tournament at the age of fourteen. Dheeraj Singh was able to put up a stellar performance in that tournament. On that note, he said,
“It was one of the sweetest moments in my life. I was just fourteen and one of the youngest in the squad. And playing in front of a lot of fifteen-year-olds is something huge. And I couldn’t have asked for more out of that tournament. We did well in the tournament and we won the cup, and that was one of the sweetest moments of my life.”
Dheeraj Singh’s inspirations
“I never thought that I’d become a professional player or a goalkeeper. I was just a seasonal player who played all kinds of sports. Before I started playing football, I used to play cricket with my cousin brothers in a courtyard and I used to be a wicket-keeper because I loved catching the balls, diving, jumping, and so on.
“There’s a local coach in our locality; his name is Surender. He conducted football coaching every Sunday. I started attending his coaching. I was training like a regular, outfield player. One day he came late to the training and noticed me blocking balls in front of a goalpost. I don’t know what made me do that, and I was diving and stopping the balls. He saw me from a distance and asked me if I’d like to become a goalkeeper. He said I looked good in between the sticks and that I was tall as well, and said that if I want, he’d be willing to give me the goalkeeping training. I said, ‘Why not? I’ll try’. And since then, I’ve been doing it, and I catch-up very well with him.”
Dheeraj Singh, on being scouted by AIFF, said,
“I think it was in the Under-14 AIFF Festival tournament (2011) that I was scouted because, after that, I’ve been training with the AIFF Youth set-up. I have no words to express how thankful I am for AIFF for giving me such a great opportunity. That’s how I started preparing myself for the World Cup.”
Dheeraj Singh’s journey after the World Cup
“Under-17 World Cup was the biggest platform in our age group. In the three games we played, we weren’t able to deliver any results. But the most important thing is that we learned a lot from those games; we gained a lot of confidence as a player and as a person. Just after the World Cup, we got the chance to play in the I-League; that’s a good transition. I think that helped us in carrying the momentum from the World Cup and execute the confidence gained in the I-League.”
Dheeraj Singh on the learnings from the World Cup games
“Honestly, when you play against a stronger team, you can’t afford to make minor mistakes. That’s what we learned. If you look at the World Cup matches, most of our conceded goals were from our own mistakes. We have to stay concentrated till the last whistle is blown.”
Dheeraj Singh on getting national team call-up and training with the team
“I feel delighted to be a part of the national team. It is an honour for me to get this opportunity at a very young age. I get to learn a lot from the senior players. Getting a chance to play or train with the best goalkeepers in the nation, I think it is a critical chance for me. Hopefully, I’ll get to learn a lot of things from them on and off the pitch. I’m trying to learn things such as maintaining myself off the pitch, maintaining a good diet, etc. And it’s an honour for me to be able to share the dressing room with them.
“When I first got the call for the senior national team, they (Amrinder Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu) congratulated me and welcomed me like when someone welcomes somebody into their family. They told me that I have been doing good and that I still have a lot to learn. They are very nice to me and keep motivating me. They help me rectify my mistakes during the training.”
Dheeraj Singh on the competition that exists in the goalkeeping position
“There are many good goalkeepers in India, even in the senior national team and in the leagues. They’re all very good. And the competition among us is very tough. We all know that Gurpreet paaji and Amrinder paaji are currently among the top in India right now. I’m very young; I have lots of areas where I have to improve. And it’s a tough challenge for all the goalkeepers because they have (Amrinder Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu) set a good standard. We all have a lot to learn before reaching that height, and hopefully, one day, I’ll be seen fit to fill in their boots.”