Kerala Blasters FC have made a brilliant start to the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season and find themselves in second place after winning five of their opening nine matches. 

An instrumental figure in one of their most successful starts to a season is the local youngster from Kerala, Sachin Suresh. The 22-year-old goalkeeper has had an immense impact on the team since taking command between the posts.

With 23 saves and two clean sheets in nine appearances, Suresh has already established himself as a competitor for the ISL Golden Glove (Best Goalkeeper of the Season) award, challenging the likes of Amrinder Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

Suresh sat down for an interview with and spoke about his dream of playing for KBFC coming true, how his life has changed since joining the Blasters, and how his teammates and coaches have helped him get better.

Here are the excerpts:

How do you start your football career?

My father wanted me to be a football player since I was born. I was given a ball at a young age. He started making me dive inside the house from the age of five. Then I joined SEPT, Sports and Education Promotion Trust in Kozhikode, an academy at the age of seven. My father was my coach there. I trained well there. They took their best players to Dubai for the Under-10 tournament. We played against good teams in Dubai. There we met Maradona and took photos with him. This is how I started.

When and how did you decide to become a goalkeeper? Who is behind the decision?

My father was behind the decision. Goalkeeping has been my focus since the beginning. It was the same when I joined the academy. My inspiration was also my father even though I have never seen my father play in person. By the time I was born, he had stopped playing due to a shoulder problem. My family supported me. Everyone wanted me to do well. They believed that my father would train me well and bring me up.

How did you join Kerala Blasters FC?

I mentioned SEPT (Sports and Education Promotion Trust). I studied from ninth class to twelve in their main centre at Farooq, Kozhikode. After that, I joined a team called FC Kerala in Thrissur. Our coach there was Mr Purushothaman, the current assistant coach of Kerala Blasters. I trained under him. I played in the second division there and also played in the Kerala Premier League. That's when I got the call from Blasters. I joined the reserve team in the first bio-bubble season (ISL 2020-21). That's how I became a part of Kerala Blasters FC. The following year I was promoted from the reserve team to the senior team. This is my fourth year with Kerala Blasters FC, including a stint in the reserve team.

Sachin, you overcame the initial criticism and now are performing well. How do you rate your own performance this season?

Initially, there were problems in the pre-season. I couldn't perform well at that time. Maybe that's why the fans got tense and because goalkeeping is a very important position, they started criticising me. But my goalkeeping coach Slavan (Progovecki), head coach Ivan (Vukomanovic), and all other coaching staff gave all the support they could. They trained me well and I was able to play well in Dubai. I am happy with my current performance.

My family is very happy. My detractors are now supporting me. I am also very happy. Being a Malayali, I am now able to perform well for our own team.

Your performances have been impressive and you've got so much praise from everywhere. So how do you manage that aspect of handling praise and how do you still try and improve?

As a goalkeeper, I need to gain more experience and I need to be more calm and I need to support my defence more. I'm doing it, but I need to improve in that area more. Our goalkeeping coach helped me a lot to handle these pressures. He tells me to just keep going and not take the praise. It's good, but he tells me to not let reach my head. He told me that he's with me and we'll do it together.

What was the feeling when you knew that you were going to make your debut for the senior team? What messages did you receive from your family and friends?

It was my dream. It was a dream come true moment when I heard that I was going to play the next match, the first match for Kerala Blasters FC in our stadium, Kochi, in ISL. So, I was so happy to hear that and it was a great moment for me. I talked to my family, I told them that I'm going to play the next match. So they were also so happy. And my friends, everyone, they told me to just keep going, just play like I always do, to not take pressure, just play my (best) and do my best. And they were also so proud.

Has your life changed after playing for Kerala Blasters FC? How is life different for you now?

It's different. After the last two games, it was difficult to go out because people have started recognising me. Private life is difficult right now with family. I understand, I know that situation because Rahul KP is my friend, so I know he had those situations before. He can't go out. There are some problems, but sometimes we have to enjoy that. Just keep going. It's all because of our hard work. So we'll keep pushing and we'll do our best.

Have you played with Rahul KP before?

We have been together since I was nine. We were together in an academy. So we have grown up together and we were together. We played for district teams. We played for state teams together. After that, he went for the national team for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. And all at that time we got separated and after that, we got together in KBFC. 

He just keeps motivating me. He told me that I have to play for the national team and I could get there one day. He pushes me a lot.

Do you look up to any goalkeeper in particular, India or abroad?

Yes. I'm a fan of (Marc Andre) Ter Stegen, the goalkeeper of FC Barcelona. You can scroll down to my Instagram account and there will be a photo of him just saving from a one-on-one situation. The caption is ‘My idol’ like that. So, I am a long-term follower of him. I like the technique he uses with his legs in one-on-one situations. I like his way of playing and I am trying to adapt to it a lot. He's my idol. 

How is Vukomanovic as a person and as a coach?

He (Vukomanovic) gives us technical input. He shows us how to do it. In between the games, he tells us what to do and where to be to the players and also emotionally, in training, he pushes us a lot. The thing he always says is that, ‘I don't mind if you miss the ball. The thing I mind is what's your reaction after missing the ball?’ That's the thing he always says.

You have Karanjit Singh as your other goalkeeper in the team, a veteran of Indian football. What have you learned from him?

I think his age is 37, but he still looks like he's younger, like below 30. In training, he pushes me a lot because he does everything great and he never stops. He never feels tired because of his age. He’s like a second coach to me. He supports me a lot. He shares his experience with me.

You get all those ‘Sachin, Sachin’ chants which were previously for Sachin Tendulkar (former co-owner). How does that make you feel?

Yeah. It's a great feeling. You know, he’s like the God of the nation in cricket. I'm so happy to hear my name like that compared to Sachin Tendulkar. It's not a comparison, but I'm so happy to hear my supporters chanting like, ‘Sachin, Sachin.’ It gives me more motivation and more power.