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Kerala Blasters' Goalie Dilemma: Dheeraj Singh or Naveen Kumar?

9:59 AM MYT 11/09/2018
Naveen Dheeraj Kerala Blasters
With two talented goalkeepers at his disposal, David James faces the tough task of choosing one of them as his first-choice custodian...

Dheeraj Singh's move to Kerala Blasters came as a surprise to most football fans in the country. After putting in impressive displays at the 2017 U-17 World Cup, the young goalkeeper chose a trial stint at Motherwell FC over regular minutes at Indian Arrows, a decision that divided opinion. 

That the Manipur-born lad already had a deal with Indian Super League (ISL) club Kerala Blasters was common knowledge and the returned there after the 'stint' ended. With former Liverpool goalkeeper at the helm of affairs, the switch to the Kochi-based side was a no-brainer from the perspective of the promising goalkeeper. But was it the same for the other party?

Clearly not, as within a month, Blasters had landed the signature of Naveen Kumar from FC Goa. Naveen had displaced Kattimani as Goa's first-choice custodian midway through the 2017-18 season and impressed Sergio Lobera enough to end the season as their best performer in goal. 

Despite Lobera's claim that Kattimani was the best goalkeeper in the league, his team had only started keeping clean sheets once Naveen Kumar came into the fray. Mind you, the defence was Goa's biggest concern throughout the season. 

At Blasters, David James now has two good goalkeepers, both of whom will be expecting to start the ISL matches. For any coach, it is an interesting problem to have. 

“My first target this season is to play all matches. I also want Kerala Blasters to win the ISL title this season," Naveen had told Goal after his move to Kerala. An exciting talent and an experienced campaigner have given rise to a goalkeeper conundrum at Blasters.

Dheeraj is immensely talented but has not played a single minute at the highest level (if you exclude Indian Arrows stint wherein he played six matches in I-League). Throwing him into the starting lineup and that too in front of a sizeable and demanding Kochi crowd can only add to the pressure.

A training stint at Motherwell FC was just what it was - a training stint. A stint of several weeks at a foreign club is not going to be gamechanging in a any sense. 

Both keepers started a match each at the La Liga tournament held in July.  Dheeraj played against Melbourne City and the encounter seemed to have given him the spooks. Naveen couldn't do much better as Girona put five goals past him. Blasters lost both matches, letting in 11 goals in 180 minutes. 

The likes of Prasanth Karuthadathkuni, Rino Anto and CK Vineeth have all come under the supporters' fire on social media for below-par displays and Dheeraj could soon join the list. But according to his coach, he is ready to play at the highest level. 

James' epic reply when questioned about the decision to sign Dheeraj was, "If I didn't think Dheeraj could (play at the highest level), then he wouldn't be here. This is not a charity, we don't bring people in just because they are nice."

The ideal scenario or the safer route would be to play Naveen in goal first and see if Dheeraj can usurp Naveen as the first choice. James looks like he is set to take the riskier route and only time will tell if the former Liverpool goalkeeper has hit the nail on the head. Would David James land in a quandary at the start of the season?

Follow Nisanth V Easwar on  Twitter - @niktheblue94