India under-17 goalkeeper Dheeraj Moirangthem’s heroics under the bar have caught the attention of scouts representing a few international clubs, the team’s Portuguese goalkeeping coach Paolo Grilo has said. He, however, did not disclose the names of the clubs those scouts represent.
Even though India ended its campaign on Thursday without a point from the three group-stage matches, Dheeraj was seen as one of the best performers of the team with former captain Baichung Bhutia calling him India’s ‘find of the tournament’. His shot-stopping ability, positioning and awareness have been appreciated by several current and former players as well as rival team coaches.
Grilo, who is the goalkeeping coach of USA’s Major League Soccer side Philadelphia Union, said he is aware of the interest shown in Dheeraj by foreign clubs. “One hundred percent there are people from many teams in Europe and around the world who are looking at him. I can’t tell you what is the team,” he said on Friday. “If he returns to the methodology of training in India, then he won’t improve. Dheeraj has the potential to play there (in Europe).”
While rest of the team left for their respective hometowns on Friday, the goalkeeper was involved in a long discussion with a senior AIFF official where, among other things, they discussed his future. The official said Dheeraj will consult his family during the three-day break given to the players and they will then meet next week to see if there are any ‘genuine interested parties’.
The AIFF will be one of the key parties to this since Dheeraj is its academy product and is on the verge of signing of a two-year deal with the federation to play in the I-League. “We are aware of the interest shown by the scouts and have spoken to Dheeraj about it. The most important thing is to ensure the interest is genuine and not because of commercial reasons,” the AIFF official said.
Dheeraj said he wants ‘to relax for a few days’ before thinking about his future options. Next week, he is likely to meet senior AIFF officials along with his parents and coach Luis Norton de Matos. The Portuguese coach will stay on till the end of the under-19 continental qualifiers. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said negotiations are on with him to continue as the coach of the team in the I-League. Matos said the chances of that happening are ‘positive.’
The team, meanwhile, will be elevated to the under-19 level immediately. The players have been given a three-day break and will return to Delhi on October 17, when they will begin a fresh camp for the under-19 Asian Championship qualifiers. Matos and his assistant Hugo Martins will be joined by current under-19 coach Flyod Pinto at the camp, which will last for one week before the team travels to Qatar on October 25.
On the day of the under-17 World Cup final – October 28 – India will play a friendly with Qatar under-19 and then proceed to Saudi Arabia for the qualifiers. “This (under-17) team, along with some players from under-19 team, will participate in the AFC U-19 qualifiers in November. After that, they will play in the I-League from Delhi,” Das said.
To ensure continuity, Das said the current under-16 team will get the same kind of exposure as the bunch that took part in the under-17 World Cup. That team travelled to 18 countries in the run up to the tournament. Unlike this team, however, the next batch will have to go through the qualifiers to book a place in next edition of the under-17 World Cup.
“The current under-16 team will follow the same path as the under-17 team in terms of foreign exposure except that we would like them to play in more competitions now,” Das said, adding that lack of tournaments cost this team dearly. “Our main objective is to ensure this under-16 team qualifies for the 2018 under-16 Asian Championship and the under-17 World Cup the following year.”
Das said the academy cost for the youth teams will be taken care of by AIFF while exposure trips and competitions will be paid for by the government.