India under-17 goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh’s Moirangthem’s parents were 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 that his son was a bright student and did not want him to play as the game was not considered a lucrative career option.

Dheeraj, whose heroics between the sticks against USA and Colombia have earned him accolades from all quarters, hails from Moirang, a sub-divisional headquarter in Manipur’s Bishnupur district. The 17-year-old is the middle child of Romit and Hemam Usha Devi, who is an employee of the local Municipal Board – Dheeraj has two sisters.

Romit revealed that he once tried to sabotage his son’s dreams. “Dheeraj was a bright student and he was a class topper in his school. He was at a boarding school and there, he took part in drama, painting also and also sang bhajans. I was against him playing football and would not buy his football kits so he was forced to ask his maternal grandmother to buy apparel,” Romit was quoted as saying by PTI.

Romit is now in Delhi with his wife to watch their son represent India, in what is the nation’s first ever Fifa event. “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’d never imagined that he will play for India one day and earn people’s praise,” he added.

Dheeraj studied at the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Churachandpur, around 20 km from Moirang before embarking on his football journey. Despite his son’s new-found fame, Romit, who holds a post-graduate diploma degree in Library and Information Science wants the former to complete school. “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.”

Dheeraj was bitten by the football bug after watching locals play in his neighbourhood. Veteran Surendro Singh, who had taken part in the Santosh Trophy several times in 1980s, was instrumental in Dheeraj playing in the state level inter-district U-14 Championships.

‘Wanted him to focus on his studies’

The Real Madrid and Petr Cech fan represented his state in the National U-14 Championships at Kalyani in West Bengal in 2011, which opened the gates for a spot at the AIFF elite academy in Goa for the ongoing World Cup. The gangly glovesman was also a member of the Indian team that won the U-16 Saff Championships at Kathmandu in 2013.

“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 becomes a doctor, engineer or a government employee. But now we are happy that he has earned a name for himself,” he added. There are reports that Dheeraj is among the many Indian players under the radar of the European scouts at the World Cup. However, Romit said that he was unaware of them approaching Dheeraj with an offer.