Sudeva Delhi FC goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar reflects on the side’s I-League campaign so far as the players go into a 10-day break in the action with their spirits soaring after the 4-0 win over Chennai City FC. 

Sudeva Delhi FC Media

Having won their game against Chennai City FC emphatically, the mood in the Sudeva Delhi FC camp was upbeat. As the team entered a 10-day break, the win was a guarantee of peace of mind and a much-needed confirmation that what was being done was right and would reap rich dividends. And so a celebration was in order. It was a simple enough idea, more perhaps to break the monotony that comes with being inside a bio bubble than winning a game of football. Pizzas were requested and pizzas were delivered. 

Today’s training session was also light-hearted but competitive — thanks to the introduction of scorelines and the breaking up of the squad into two teams. Through it, all, despite the banter commitment was demanded. From many in the squad hoping to break into the matchday squad, or the first XI, 100% effort was necessary. Every position matters.

Sudeva Delhi FC’s first-choice goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar was melancholic when talking about the need for competition to help players thrive. “You have to give players opportunities. It is how I started too, taking someone else’s spot.”  

Even this season Dagar — despite having kept three clean sheets in five games he played — has been on the bench, once, for the game against Churchill Brothers. He accepted the decision gracefully and graciously, as the 6’6” former Arrows keeper Lovepreet Singh got a start in goal. It was the 22-year-old’s first start in the I-League in nearly two years. If there were nerves, Dagar was there to help calm them down.

“It’s a competitive sport. And we are constantly competing too. The guys who are No. 1 and 2 are supposed to be as good as each other. And I believe that. Either of us is good enough to play on matchday,” he says.

“I’ve been there too. I’ve spent time as a second goalkeeper, and even as a fourth goalkeeper, not making the squad. It takes a lot of patience and mental fortitude. It teaches you a lot,” Dagar says. The senior member of a goalkeepers’ union that has the teenager Ashish Sibi, and two youngsters Sachin Jha and Lovepreet, Dagar knows he has an added responsibility at the club — to groom and prepares his colleagues for a long career ahead. 

“If you are the second keeper, your role is to help the other guy warm-up, get him ready for the game, encourage him, talk to him,” Dagar says. “You have to do that simply because when the shoe is on your foot you’ll expect it too!” 

Despite the uplifting win, the long break and the constant ups and downs of professional sport, for a man who is — quite literally — the last player to board the bus after a training session, nothing much changes. The grind is cyclical and the cycle is constant. 

The 28-year-old started his professional career at United Sikkim in the I-League in the club’s own debut season in 2012-13 and has, for the second time in his career associated himself with a debutante club.

“The situation now with a lot of the kids here at Sudeva reminds me of my days at United Sikkim actually,” Dagar says. “I was a young, green behind the ears player then, at a club making its own debut in the league. You experienced things you’ve never seen before, and may never get to again. Everyone is learning together.”

The goalkeeper is a specialist position played by the select few brave enough to put their bodies in the way of high-speed shots. And it is also a position where you spend large parts of your career sitting, warming the bench, simply because an opportunity does not arise. Training isn’t just a constant, it is a necessary learning experience. A classroom to be attended every day, just for the reward of that one day on the pitch.

Dagar, for one, never takes his position, his game or his own self for granted. Every word is measured, every sentence thought out, before it is delivered. On matchday, he is the loudest voice, constantly organising and structuring the defence in front. On the training field, he is patient when working with the youngsters around him. Off it all, he is a silent guiding presence, a hand on the till teaching them the virtues of patience in a profession that requires bucketloads. 

“No one wants to be second,” Dagar says, “but it is a reality of the game. It doesn’t mean you give up. It means you strive to improve every day.”