Nicknamed the ‘beast’, Suresh Singh believes that the role of a player is to execute to perfection the role assigned to him by the coach. In a freewheeling interview, Suresh speaks at length about being a coach’s player, his favourite ‘box-to-box role’, playing in different positions, the journey since the U-17 World Cup, and much more.
Were you expecting the National team call?
It was never in my hand. I kept on focussing on myself, and my play. My logic is simple – if I am not called then I need to understand that either I am not ready, or good enough. Being in Bengaluru FC helped a lot simply because I regularly trained with five National team players, and even Khabra-bhai shared with me his experiences of the National Team. That helped me grow in confidence.
What is your role in the squad?
I am a coach’s player. The role of the player is to execute the plans and stick to the role assigned to him to perfection. The coach will guide me and tell me what he wants from me for my team. I always try to gauge what the coach demands and thereafter I depend on his technical inputs. During the match, I just stick to the role assigned to me.
If you ask me I always love to be the box-to-box midfielder. But there have been matches where I started in the wings. So there will be temptations to go for glory in certain moments, but as a player, I need to remember my role.
Playing in different positions helps me to gauge the fines aspects associated with every position in the field.
What can we expect from the Blue Tigers in Doha?
These are extremely significant matches and tough at the same time. Our eventual aim is to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup in 2023. Owing to the pandemic we are making up for lost time in the camp. The positive part stays that we have a full-strength team at our disposal. The mindset in the squad is extremely positive.
As a newcomer, I am hearing stories about how we held Asian Champions Qatar in their own den the last time here. That motivates me and everyone else, but at the same time, we understand that all of that is past. On June 3 when the two teams meet again, it will be a new start. So you cannot rest on past laurels. In fact, the last time India played against Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, all were drawn matches.
What’s special in the National team?
It’s the ultimate dream for any footballer. The best of the country get to play here. And these players are talked about internationally. It may sound cliché, but that has been my dream. Having seen Amarjit (Singh), Narender (Gehlot) play for the country motivated me more. Dheeraj is also there in the squad with me here along with Narender. I feel more from our U-17 World Cup batch and the Arrows will prove themselves and earn the slot soon.
It has been quite a long wait for you to be a part of the team since the U-17 World Cup wherein you showed a lot of promise. How do you describe the journey?
Contrary to the generic perception, the journey hasn’t been a bed of roses. In fact, it’s been tough. There have been a lot of sacrifices involved in terms of football, and even life. I have learnt to focus on myself as to what I can do – in terms of training, eating sleeping, recovery process, discipline. The phase also taught me to be extremely patient.
You have been nicknamed the beast. Why?
You need to ask them. I don’t know (laughs). It’s the love of all my colleagues and my seniors for me I know they are fond of me and love me to the hilt. I have no complaints.
When did you first join the AIFF Academy?
It was in 2014 that I first joined the Academy. But it wasn’t a dream start as I suffered an ankle injury and was out of action for eight months. I felt jealous of others who were playing, and feared that I may be sent home any day.
What happened next?
Scott-sir (Scott O’Donnell – the then AIFF Technical Director) assured me that I won’t even be sent home till I got fit. “You will get your chance to prove yourself,” he stated to me. I remain eternally grateful to him and AIFF for that.
But even as I recovered, I was never able to break into the starting XI. Then one day as we were playing a friendly match, I was brought on for the last 20 minutes. I was able to impress my coach who had just joined, and my journey began.
Take us through that journey.
For a young boy coming out of a nondescript town in Manipur, I wrote down in my diary every time I flew abroad. I have been privileged enough to play against Brazil, USA, Argentina, Sweden, Norway amongst others, and also youth teams of clubs like Bayer Leverkusen, FC Cologne, Hoffenheim amongst others.
Against Norway we were tied 0-0 at half-time but after Stalin (Sanjeev) was sent-off, we lost 0-2. I remember Erling Haaland playing in that match.
How significant was the Arrows?
It helped us gain a foothold prior to us turning pros. Had Arrows not happened, most of us would have lost the pathway after the U-17 World Cup. It allowed us to mature, and we backed it with some exceptional results. Everyone from the batch stays eternally grateful to the Federation for their support, help, planning, and vision. Eventually, after Arrows, I shifted to Bengaluru FC. My dad advised me to move out of my comfort zone and challenge myself.
(Nilanjan Datta / AIFF Media)