Let’s start off with a question – How many top flight footballers hailing from Uttar Pradesh do you know? Just like me, you can take the help of Google to find the answer. Apart from the sheer joy of supporting a youngster in fulfilling his dreams of becoming a great footballer, Nishu Kumar’s place of origin played a great role in me doing a short feature on him.
The Hindi heartland is the region from where we don’t see enough talent popping up in our football scene and Nishu Kumar maybe the sign of great things to come and of untapped potential from the state.
Nishu, Bengaluru FC’s left back started his footballing journey from a small ground across his home in Muzzafarnagar. He played with his friends on the dusty ground. By eighth standard he had made up his mind on staying in a hostel to pursue his studies and had set a target to be achieved – to join Lucknow Sports College. So, when Lucknow Sports College came calling for football trials, Nishu didn’t have to think twice and got selected after the trials. This is when he spotted a newspaper ad about trials at the Chandigarh Football Academy. He had already made up his mind on living in a hostel to continue his studies, so although he did not know much about Chandigarh or the football academy, Nishu set out on a journey that changed his life.
In 2009, Nishu joined CFA, and under the guidance of ex-Indian internationals Harjinder Singh and Tejinder Singh, Nishu honed his skills to perfection. “I started off as a striker in football in my childhood, just like any other youngster. It is in CFA, that I started playing as a defender”, Nishu says with a grin. He was played as a central defender and excelled his position as he appeared in various tournaments for CFA and played the National school games and various age group tournaments for Chandigarh.
After almost four years in CFA, he appeared for Chandigarh in the Sub-junior National Championship for Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy. Even though Chandigarh lost the final to Assam, Nishu’s consistent display for the team was noted by AIFF scouts who were present during the tournament.
In 2013, Nishu left CFA to join the AIFF Regional Academy in Mumbai, and was subsequently drafted in to the AIFF Elite Academy in Goa. Former Indian International Sabir Pasha was the coach in the academy at that time and he slightly adjusted Nishu’s position on the field. Sabir Pasha recommended that he shift to left back and from then on he has been playing in that position with great success.
According to Nishu, “Playing as wing back as opposed to a central defender is much more interesting as it not only involves all facets of defending, but also provides an opportunity to test my attacking skills. Even though it involves a lot of running up and down the pitch, this is a position that I enjoy playing in.”
I have met Nishu a couple of times before I sat down with him for this interview. During our earlier meetings, he literally shied off from talking. Hence, I was curious to know, how come a shy person like Nishu changes to a combative footballer when he takes to the field. He quipped, “Yes I am a bit shy off the field, but football is an high intensity sport and we have to be utmost serious while playing the game professionally, hence I am always charged up before match to give my maximum best.” After prodding a bit more, he says “Yes, probably when I am on the pitch playing football, I turn to be a different personality,” he says innocently.
Playing football and hoping to cut a professional career in the sport while hailing from a place like Uttar Pradesh where the sport is not very popular would have been quite a dream to accomplish. When asked if he ever imagined playing with stalwarts of Indian football like Sunil Chhetri, Nishu says, “While I was at CFA, I never imagined I would be playing at this level. But after I moved to Mumbai at the AIFF regional academy, I was more confident on where the game could take me.” While at the Elite academy, the AIFF U-19 team played couple of friendlies with Bengaluru FC, as part of their preparation for the Asian Champions Trophy tournament. He recalls how the whole team was so charged up to play against BFC as the team was already making waves in Indian Football and they were the team to beat according to the youngsters in the India U19 team. “We were so elated after the first friendly that I could not even sleep that night as we played against top players like Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Rino Anto, John Johnson and others at BFC. But I never expected to get selected here. Later when I got to know that I got selected by BFC, I was so extremely excited.”
Nishu, who is a Chelsea fan idolises John Terry. He has settled in quite well at Bengaluru FC after being signed on by the club in 2015. He has since appeared for some matches in the AFC Cup and I-league for the club. He says the seniors at the club always help him on and off the ground and playing along players like John Johnson is in itself an inspiration to improve and do well on the pitch.
Nishu was signed on by the club when Ashley Westwood was the coach and now they have a new coach in Albert Roca. When asked about the difference between two coaches, Nishu said, “there is not much of a difference, but yes, both of them have a different approach to the game. Roca insists on playing with the ball and having more possession, but Ashley was about high intensity and used to totally charges us up while preparing for a match.”
It is obvious that Nishu has a long way to go in his career, so when asked about this he said, “This is only a prelude, I know I can do even better and I am trying hard to improve and get better.” He is hoping to make the maximum out of the chances that have come his way this season, and is keen to impress the coach and the fans alike. Just as any other Indian footballer, he dreams of playing for the senior Indian national team someday! Nishu attributes his success to the coaches who have helped him develop and is quick to credit all who have helped him over the years to reach where he is now.
When I was about to wind up the interview, I thought of asking him one last question. “Did anyone from UP football association ever talk to you?” NO, was the answer. This reply was predictable and is a glimpse into what exactly is ailing our football system. But despite these challenges, there are talents like Nishu Kumar who, if provided with the right guidance and platform can excel in the top level. I wished him the best for the finals of the AFC Cup in Doha and we bid good bye!