At 34 and in the twilight zone, all that remains for Sreejesh is to tick a few boxes in a career that has been filled with many ups and downs.
A second Olympic medal wrapped around his neck with the gigantic Eiffel Tower looming above him is an ultimate dream, but for now he wants to be that safe “checkpoint” in what will be his third and last Commonwealth Games.
“Life was not always the same. It was always full of ups and downs. I had very good games and very bad outings. I started my career badly, then little by little I worked my way up to become India’s No.1 keeper,” Sreejesh told PTI in an interview.
“From witnessing the lowest of the London Olympics in 2012 to winning the bronze medal in Tokyo, in between I captained the national team, then in 2018 my career was almost over due to “an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury. In Kerala, we have a famous dish called ‘avial’. It’s a 13-vegetable curry. I can associate my career with avial.”
At the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Sreejesh played the starring role in India’s gold medal win, when he saved two attempts in a shootout against Pakistan in the final. During the 2014 and 2018 Champions Trophy, he was elected “Guardian of the Tournament”.
At this stage of his career, Sreejesh prefers short targets.
“As a youngster, I always used to plan for four years. Now I always prefer short-term goals. Now my priority is CTM, then my next step is the World Cup for sure. When you keep goals short, it always helps you focus more on your performance, fitness and mental toughness.”
So he basically plans to continue until the Paris Olympics.
“Looking ahead, Paris is doable. I can see the Eiffel Tower but this road won’t be easy. I think these small steps will help me get there,” said the lanky keeper.
“Other Commonwealth Games are tricky because in four years I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain (my fitness) but who knows, there you can see me as a coach.”
Sreejesh thinks goalkeepers are like vintage wine, which gets better with age, as he reflects on his illustrious career, where he started warming up from the bench and became one of the best in the world .
He said setbacks early in his career taught him to use chess as building blocks for success.
“When I started my career I used to concede a lot of goals. The best part of being a goalkeeper is when you’re second choice you gain a lot of experience by sitting outside and I learned the game by watching people like Devesh Chauhan, Adrian D’Souza, Bharat Chettri.
“Over a period I had seniors, who corrected me and covered for me. If I had been drafted into the main team straight away, I would have finished now because the pressure is too high at the level international and youngsters might find it hard to deal with at first,” Sreejesh said.
“That’s why we always say that goalkeepers get better with age. Goalkeepers are like vintage wine because with age their level of maturity increases, their handling of pressure improves and they make decisions wisely.”
Speaking of the upcoming CWG, Sreejesh thinks India have the potential to finish on the podium, but beating the mighty Aussies would be key to deciding the color of the medal.
“The team is capable of reaching the final for sure. The way we play, we can definitely get a better result than in 2014. But it’s about how you deal with that particular day when you play. the semi-final and the final. Certainly, this team is capable of finishing on the podium,” he said.
“Australia are one of the best teams in the world. We have seen their performance in the Tokyo Olympics as well. So it won’t be really easy to beat them, but given the way our team is doing now, we’re confident we’ll give them a tough competition. We are not going to make it easy for any team.”