At 21, professional footballers wants to stand out from the rest and always try to make a mark. FC Goa goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh is a prime example. The Gaurs' custodian might have undergone a rather underwhelming Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season but his qualities between the sticks largely remains unchanged.

Singh has shone bright over the years and his consistent performances have earned him the hot seat of being the first-choice goalkeeper for FC Goa. Shimmering in the Goan colours ever since, the 21-year-old also became the first-ever Indian footballer to be named in the AFC Champions League Team of the tournament last year.

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With Carlos Pena taking over as the head coach for the upcoming Hero ISL season, Dheeraj Singh has the opportunity to thrive and excel into an even more reliable shotstopper, and eventually take the mantle forward for the nation.

Singh spoke to The Assam Tribune in an exclusive interview prior to the start of the new season.

Here are the excerpts of the goalkeeper’s interview:

You have had a great outing with FC Goa so far. Even in the AFC Champions League, your performance was outstanding. Tell us something about your experience with the Gaurs.

I joined FC Goa one and a half years ago, in January 2021. I've played over 30 games for Goa since then, including matches in the AFC Champions League and the title-winning Durand Cup last year. So far, my stint at FC Goa has been wonderful. I've benefited greatly from the game time and training that I've had here. The ACL has been one of my best memories with the club to-date. I thought I did well. My stint with FC Goa also opened the doors to the Indian national team. While I'm yet to make my debut for the country, I'm sure that I'll get my chance soon if I continue doing well for my club.

You are just 21 now and you have been one of the best in the country. What are the things you would want to achieve in the next five years?

Becoming a mainstay at FC Goa and winning titles such as the ISL, Durand Cup and Super Cup among others are one of my main objectives right now. Apart from that, I would also like to break into the playing XI for India and become a regular for them as well. In the next five years, I hope to achieve all this and establish myself as one of the best goalkeepers in the country.

You went for a trial at Scottish club Motherwell FC and also had the opportunity to train with AFC Bournemouth before signing for Kerala Blasters FC. How was the experience and also are you willing to play for some European clubs in near future?

Training with the European clubs was a good experience. The level and intensity were a challenge that I really loved as it was higher than what one might be used to in India. Right now I am completely focussed on doing the best for FC Goa. If the right opportunity knocks on my door, that is something any Indian player would look keenly – but right now it's not my first priority.

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How do you look forward to the next season, especially with the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic being over and fans back to the stadium?

While we were aware that we missed the fans cheering us from the stands, we realised how badly we missed them only during the Durand Cup 2021 semifinals and final at Kolkata. We played those two games in front of a packed crowd and we fully remembered how influential their presence was. That said, I'm excited to see the fans return this coming season. The fans in Goa are crazy about football. It's unfortunate that I have not had the opportunity to play in front of them yet since joining FC Goa and I really look forward to playing in front of them.