KOCHI: Dheeraj Singh knew that facing Melbourne City FC was going to be a tall order. On his debut for Kerala Blasters, Dheeraj was up against a far superior opposition in a fixture three months before the domestic season even began for the Indian Super League (ISL) club. The outcome, as expected, did not paint a good picture of the young goalkeeper’s prodigious talent.
India’s U-17 World Cup custodian let in six goals in what was a forgettable 90 minutes collectively for Blasters. But the youngster bore the brunt the most — understandable because of the standards he had set for himself with eye-catching displays for the national team at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“I know it isn’t an excuse, but we had very little time to prepare for that match. Also, Melbourne are a strong side — one of the best in the A-League. I had prepared for a lot of situations, because playing at the youth level and against such a quality opposition are very different,” Dheeraj told Express on Friday.
But the 18-year-old isn’t one to sulk. “I have watched that game over and over again. I analysed my performance plenty of times. Because I believe that is how you grow — by learning from your mistakes,” said Dheeraj, who is preparing for his first full season as a senior professional.
And the Manipur lad is already feeling the difference. “I have been under AIFF’s youth development project since I was 13. They took care of everything we wanted — on and off the field. But at Blasters, I have to take care of things myself which has made me more responsible and learn a thing or two,” said Dheeraj.
Dheeraj, who quit developmental side Indian Arrows in the I-League at the turn of the new year to pursue his dream of playing abroad, signed for Blasters after he was denied a work permit despite being offered a professional contract by Scottish Premiership side Motherwell FC.
“I have played a few matches in the I-League, but I think Blasters is a bigger challenge for me to develop as a player. I want to learn from the seniors who are in the team and I hope it turns out to be a special season for me and the club,” the shot-stopper said. But the biggest reason he picked Blasters over a string of suitors was one man — head coach David James.
“I had trained with Blasters before going to the UK because James was with the team. When I was denied the permit to stay, I chose Blasters because of him. I thought it would only be right for me to train with such a great goalkeeper. I am hoping to learn a lot from him,” said Dheeraj.
“We have incredible training sessions with him in charge. He motivates us and pushes us. He also gives us plenty of confidence,” said the Indian starlet about the former England international. “Blasters have been one of the better teams in the ISL so far and I have always wanted to play in front of the Kerala fans,” he added.