Currently plying his trade at Pune City, the 23-year-old has already played for sides like Mumbai FC and East Bengal.
From the outside, a football player’s life may look like it is surrounded glitz and glamour. In reality, there is a lot of uncertainty that goes on behind the scenes. The average footballer often puts himself through so much physical stress, that injuries become a professional hazard.
Nikhil Poojary is one such player, who has had a rather difficult time with injuries over the short career he has had so far. The 23-year-old, who has already played at some top clubs like Mumbai FC, East Bengal, now plies his trade at FC Pune City.
Having played in the Mumbai circles before, the young lad found the lure of the Kolkata Maidan quite alluring.
“The Calcutta Football League was a big experience for me. I think it is the biggest local league in the country,” said Poojary. “The fans are so passionate about the game. It’s thrilling as a player to walk out onto the pitch with so many people cheering you on,” he smiles.
The Hard Times
Poojary has had a rather difficult time during the first three years of his professional career. Back then a Red and Golds player, Poojary suffered a hamstring injury just days after signing his first professional contract with East Bengal.
While he recovered in time to play the 2017 CFL season, Poojary had more difficult roads ahead of him. During a pre-season match against Bengaluru FC, the youngster suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that laid him off for a long time.
“Many players’ careers have gone to waste due to ACL injuries. That was going on in my mind when I suffered this injury,” he said. “I had to go back to Mumbai, and at times I thought that I may not be able to play football again.
While Poojary kept getting aid from his club, an extra helping hand came from an unlikely source. “I had already played in the U-23 National Team, and on seeing my condition (former) coach Stephen Constantine spoke to AIFF to help me out,” said Poojary.
“I was sent to Goa for a couple of weeks for rehab,” he said. “I could barely walk, and I remember that I was given a car to move around from our residence to the gym or to the pool.”
Soon, another U-23 National Team call-up came for the youngster, who was quite surprised although he had recovered from the injury. His body was still not reacting as he would have expected, and further recovery routines were conducted during the camp.
“I came last on all the fitness tests that they conducted on the first day of the camp. I honestly thought that this was it. I would not make it to the main squad for the SAFF Championships,” said Nikhil. “But I was picked up for the final squad.”
When It All Changed
The medical staff worked on the young forward throughout the course of the camp, and a tour of Australia, and brought him back to shape just in time for the 2018 SAFF Championship. He was even given a few minutes towards the end of the first match against Sri Lanka.
A starting XI spot against Maldives came as a big surprise, but Poojary did not disappoint, as he scored in his first start after coming back from the difficult injury.
“I completely went blank when I scored that goal. I honestly did not know whether to celebrate or to cry. Thankfully, my teammates surrounded me,” recalled Poojary. “They knew what I had gone through during the camp, how difficult it was for me to get back on track.”
“Had I not scored that goal, I knew my career was going on the downward spiral.”
Normally, starting a game after a long injury layoff is considered as a success. If the player in question scores a goal on top of that, it’s an added bonus. But this was a completely surreal moment for the young kid, who just a few weeks back was pondering whether he could continue his career as a professional footballer.
Having overcome the period of sheer uncertainty, Nikhil has gone on to become a key member of the FC Pune City side, and will now look to lead the Stallions to glory in the Hero Super Cup.