'Trying to learn as much as possible from technically superior Motherwell players', says Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem
Last year was a monumental year for football in India as the country hosted it's first ever FIFA tournament, the FIFA U17 World Cup. Not only that, India was represented by a bunch of young, talented boys who rubbed shoulders with many of the future stars of world football.
The young Indian colts may not have managed to win any of their matches, but they certainly won hearts with their spirited performances. And, among that bunch of youngsters, one particular 17-year-old stood out.
Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, the Manipur-born lad, had impressed one and all with his superb showing between the sticks at the World Cup. The saves he pulled off during the World Cup — scurrying off the line to sweep the ball off the onrushing striker's feet, diving full stretch to either side to fist away powerful shots, making crucial saves from almost point-blank range — made him a household name in India.
Even before the tournament, he had been making steady progress on the football circuit, but it was his performance at the World Cup that made him the star that he is today.
And now, after spending the first half of the season with AIFF's developmental side the Indian Arrows, Dheeraj has travelled to Europe to test his skills among the world's elites. In what is likely to be a three-month tour of the continent, the young goalkeeper will train and give trials at a host of big clubs across Europe.
His first destination, of course, is Scottish Premiership club Motherwell FC, where he is currently on a trial. Dheeraj has been training with the first team, and as reported earlier, will soon get to play in a friendly match to prove his mettle. Sportskeeda caught up with the talented shotstopper and in a candid chat, he relayed how his experience at Motherwell has been like, so far.
"It's been nice so far, the people around here (Scotland) are nice, the players are very friendly. My training sessions are going well," Dheeraj said.
"The main issue, though, is the weather, otherwise, it's all going fine," he added.
Of course, the weather in Scotland is far colder than what a tropical country like India experiences. When asked about how exactly the weather is affecting his performances at training, Dheeraj said, "If we're doing indoor training, then it's okay but when we train outside, it's quite difficult for me. It's always raining or snowing and it's around 2-3 degrees Celcius. It's too cold. Today, there was a little bit of snow... my fingers were freezing and it was really difficult to move them properly."
Speaking about the training sessions at Motherwell, he said, "The training sessions I had, they did not focus on the technique or anything. I had a few training sessions with the first team goalkeepers under the main goalkeeping coach and there we were doing mostly basic stuff, warm-ups, four-sided games."
Pointing out the obvious difference in the quality of football in India to that in Scotland, Dheeraj said, "Technically, it's much superior, obviously. The players are very good, they are physically much stronger and there is definitely much more aggression in the game. Also, the gameplay is a lot faster."
Earlier last week, on Saturday, Motherwell FC paid a visit to Dundee for a Scottish Cup tie and Dheeraj travelled with the first team to Den's Park. On being asked about the experience, he said, "I was lucky enough to travel with the first team to Dundee and I felt very happy inside. It was a wonderful opportunity. The match was quite good and we won! So, I enjoyed it a lot."
While the experience of travelling with the first team to Dundee must have been surreal, Dheeraj must be on his toes for any kind of opportunity he gets. And, his agent Anuj Kichlu, had mentioned that he will get to play in a friendly sometime this week to prove his mettle. Dheeraj, himself, is looking forward to the match although he doesn't really know the exact plans.
"It's a great opportunity for me. I'm looking forward to it. I think I'll be playing alongside the reserves because the first team have a league match on Saturday. But I'm not too sure about the entire program, to be honest," he said.
When asked if his new teammates knew that he was such a big star back in India, Dheeraj replied with a chuckle, "They don't actually but when they check my profile on Facebook and Instagram, they are left wondering. 'What's the deal?'"
A lot of things were said and written when Dheeraj decided to not extend his contract with the Arrows and look for opportunities abroad. Pundits criticised his decision arguing that he would be letting go of regular first team football. The 17-year-old, though, had thought it thoroughly.
"I'm still very young, I'm only 17-years-old. So my thinking was that if I get a chance to go and train with a top team abroad, or even a trial, I would go for it. I thought it would be a good experience for me and the exposure would really help me. Whether I make it through or not, it's another thing, but learning new things is the most important. I'm keen on picking up new things, I want to take in all that I can and use them to improve myself.
"I have at least 15 years more, career wise. I wanted to experience a different kind of football, maybe a higher standard of football that will help me develop my game further," he said.
"Before I left India, I thought I'll try to learn as much as possible from these three months. I'm not thinking too much about whether I'm selected by one of these clubs or not," a determined Dheeraj signed off.