Promising talent Dheeraj Singh needs to play in Europe, says Bundesliga's goalkeeping globetrotter Lutz Pfannenstiel

Lutz Pfannenstiel
Goal India
Lutz Pfannenstiel, currently in charge of club affairs at Bundesliga club Fortuna Dusseldorf, shares his experience with Indian youth...

As the first and so far the only player to have played professionally in all FIFA confederations, Lutz Pfannenstiel is erudite when it comes to goalkeeping talents across the globe.

After a remarkable globetrotting career, Pfannenstiel worked as a scout for Hoffenheim for a few years, during which he brought the club to Mizoram to play matches and find new talents. The director of footballing affairs at Bundesliga club Fortuna Dusseldorf has had a close look at the goalkeeping talent in India, and he is impressed. 

"I know Gurpreet (Singh), I think he is a decent goalkeeper and I think he can play for a smaller European club. Subrata Paul was a top-level player for many years,  someone who carried himself well. Nawaz (Mohammad) and Dheeraj (Singh), for a U-17 team, were very good goalkeepers. There wasn't much difference between the German and European goalkeepers (at the U-17 level). I enjoyed working with them, they are exceptionally talented."

The former Hoffenheim scout also had a piece of advice for the talented Indian footballers - don't get too comfortable at home. 

"I always give the example of Ochoa, he was a big TV star. He decided that he doesn't care about money, he wanted to play in Europe and develop his talents. He refused the money and played the Euro League. He went back to Mexico now for 4 million a year. He had a very good character.

"Nawaz is very athletic but a bit short, Dheeraj has the height and can play in Europe but he needs to be stubborn. If he stays in the Indian league for a few more years, he won't come out (to Europe) any more, that is a fact. At 19-20 years of age, you need to go out."

Lutz Pfannenstiel

He added, "I played against Bhutia when he played for Bury, he scored a penalty against me. He was the first Indian football ambassador. He struggled but when he came back home, he was the star. Dheeraj and at least two more guys - One of them is Boris Singh - has the quality to play in Europe. The European teams saw him (Boris) and were like, 'Oh he's really good!'. The easier way is to play for a big team and earn money and stay at home. 

Dheeraj, who recently signed a five-year deal with Indian Super League (ISL) club ATK, started all three of India U-17s group matches at the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017 under coach Luis Norton de Matos. Lutz feels India could have performed better if they had not let go of German coach Nicolai Adam with a year left for the World Cup. 

"I was surprised when the German coach Nicolai left on short notice. I saw the way team was going by then, they really improved step by step. They played against our U-17 in Hoffenheim, they did a good job at the World Cup but I thought they could have done better. I saw the way things were going so I was surprised."

Bundesliga clubs, known for their investment in developing young players, have eyes India as a country with the potential to produce talented footballers. 

Kerala Blasters Dheeraj Singh

"We had a big project planned with Hoffenheim in India, based in Mumbai but the problem was that things were not done the way we thought it will be done. We were going into all the rural areas and try to bring in the top 30 players to Germany for a year. In the end, the project died due to various reasons. The kids we scouted were very good. It was just unlucky, it would have been a good project.

"India is not considered a typical football country, don't get me wrong. But if it comes to the numbers' game, if you're having a large number of kids playing football, the team should be able to qualify for the World Cup. But the problem is to filter and find talents because the country is so big. Not easy to get the best XI on the field, it is a structural problem."

He further added, "German youth education is very good, our academies are very good. The academies in Spain and France are very good. But if we take that setup to India it won't work because it's like a continent, you need lots of people and is difficult. I hope India qualifiers for the World Cup one day because it will produce a tremendous reaction. Because you find a lot of good Indian (-origin) footballers, in New Zealand, Australia etc ( such as Sarpreet Singh). If you pick out exceptional talents who are in other countries because they have Indian parents and let them play for India, I think you will make the next but obviously, that is difficult. India is like a sleeping giant."