Dheeraj Singh: Many good goalkeepers are coming up and we have very tight competition
FC Goa custodian Dheeraj Singh believes that India is at present spoilt for choice in regard to top-notch goalkeepers and that the competition is really tough among them.
Dheeraj, who had a massive AFC Champions League campaign with the Gaurs in April, is currently in Doha with the Indian team and is learning a great deal from the seasoned duo of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Amrinder Singh ahead of the Blue Tigers’ remaining three matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
"Honestly speaking, we have very good goalkeepers in India -- in the senior national team and the leagues. Many good goalkeepers are coming up and we have very tight competition among ourselves. I am very young and have lots of areas to improve upon.
"It’s very tough competition and a tough challenge for me and for every goalkeeper as they [Gurpreet and Amrinder] have set that benchmark for us to try and reach. I am working for that chance and know that I have to use the coming opportunity in the best way," Dheeraj, who is yet to make his senior-team debut, told AIFF TV.
"Now, we have most clubs playing with Indian goalkeepers domestically. Obviously, for a goalkeeper, it is very important to play regularly to gain confidence. Training and playing matches are totally different as when you play games, you learn a lot of things and there are many unique situations that come up in the matches. It’s a good experience for a goalkeeper to keep on playing matches consistently.
"I think that’s the reason many goalkeepers are coming up with good standards. Even when I was in the junior national team, we had goalkeepers like Mohammad Nawaz and Prabhsukhan Singh Gill. They all are very good and having healthy competition is good. As a player, every day is a competition for me and they pushed me every day -- that's how I have grown and we go forward together as a goalkeepers' union," the former Under-17 World Cupper explained how the domestic goalkeepers have gone from strength to strength in recent years.
Dheeraj moved to FC Goa from ATK Mohun Bagan during the January transfer window of the 2020-21 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) and before long became their number one goalkeeper. He was then called up to the Indian team for a couple of international friendlies in March. The 20-year-old, in fact, had received his first senior team call-up in November 2019 and although he didn’t get a single game, he has fond memories.
“I still remember when I got the first call-up for the senior national team -- they [Gurpreet and Amrinder] congratulated me and the team welcomed me like a family member. They were very nice to me and told me that I have been doing well and have a lot to learn. They keep on motivating me, help me rectify my mistakes during training and tell me what to do and what not to do, what is better for me and what's not. It is something very important and a huge learning for me," Dheeraj said.
Dheeraj, who was the best goalkeeper from the West Region of the AFC Champions League in terms of the number of saves (26 saves in five games), also allowed a glimpse into his present state of mind having established himself in the national team’s scheme of things for some time now.
"I feel really happy to be part of the national team and it is an honour for me to get this opportunity at a young age. I get to learn a lot of things from the senior players by playing and training with the best goalkeepers in the league. We have Gurpreet paji and Amrinder paji and it's a very important thing for me and I am looking forward to learning lots of things from them –- both on and off the pitch," he said.