India U-17 football team goalkeeper Moirangthem Dheeraj Singh’s parents were dead against their son playing football, forcing the once school topper to bank on his maternal grandmother to buy him kits.
Dheeraj’s father Romit said his son was a bright student and he did not want him to play football as the game was not considered a career option.
“Dheeraj was a bright student and he was a class topper in his school. He was at a boarding school and there he was fond of taking part in drama and painting also and even singing bhajans. I was against him playing football. I would not buy his football kits, so he had to ask his maternal grandmother to buy these football, boots and other things,” Romit, who is here with his wife to watch their son play in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, told PTI.
“His mother was also against playing football but we had to relent after Dheeraj started playing at the national (age group) level. Now we are happy that he is playing for the country at such a big event. We had never imagined that he will one day play like this and get people’s praise,” he added.
Dheeraj, whose heroics under the bar against the USA and Colombia, have earned accolades from all quarters, hails from Moirang, a sub-divisional headquarter in Manipur’s Bishnupur district. Of the three children, he is the only son of Romit and Hemam Usha Devi, who is an employee of the local Municipal Board.
Dheeraj has two sisters – one older and one younger. He studied at the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Churachandpur, around 20 km from his hometown, before beginning his football journey.
“He has now cleared class X examination and we want him to pass the class XII examination also. Now we fully support him pursuing his passion for football. We want him to play for the country, in the senior national team in the future, in big clubs and make a name for himself,” said Romit who is a post graduate diploma degree holder in Library and Information Science.
Dheeraj was initiated to football by the locals in his neighbourhood. Near his home lies a famous footballer of the state, Surendro Singh, who had taken part in the Santosh Trophy several times in 1980s and he was instrumental in Dheeraj playing in the state level inter-district U-14 Championships.
Dheeraj’s team won and he represented the state in the National U-14 Championships at Kalyani in West Bengal in 2011. He was then selected for AIFF academy at Kalyani. Later on, he was selected to train at the AIFF Elite Academy in Goa for the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup.
In between, Dheeraj was also a member of the Indian team that won the U-16 SAFF Championships in Kathmandu in 2013. He was the number one goalkeeper of the Indian team.
“Dheeraj used to play at a playground of the local college which is around one kilometer from home. He was encouraged by some senior footballers, including one who had played for Manipur in the Santosh Trophy several times.
“Dheeraj has a good height — five feet ten inches — and it suits him as a goalkeeper,” said Romit.
“My wife and I wanted him to focus on his studies so that he can try to become a doctor or an engineer or a government employee. But now we are happy that he has earned a name for himself,” Romit said.
There were reports that scouts from European clubs are watching Indian players like Dheeraj at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. But Romit said Dheeraj has not told him anything about being contacted by these scouts.