The 19-year-old opened up on his journey in Indian football and making it to the senior team at Hyderabad FC.

The general discussion among the various fan groups of Indian football these days is about how the 2020-21 season of Indian Super League (ISL) could turn out to be a path-breaker. Apart from the promising foreign signings made by the clubs, there is excitement to watch some of the rising youngsters perform at the highest level. One such name that often gets mentioned is that of Nikhil Prabhu.

One of Hyderabad FC’s rising stars, Prabhu possesses talent that has been recognized and lauded by some renowned names in Indian football, including former international Mehrajuddin Wadoo. The 19-year-old was recently promoted to the senior team after his eye-catching performances for the reserves last season.

In a candid conversation with Khel Now, Nikhil Prabhu opened up on his journey so far, his experience at the ISL outfit and ambitions for the future. Starting out at just nine, he developed an interest in sports through his school years in Surat. He even went on to represent Gujarat at the junior levels, before moving to Mumbai. A pupil of the Ryan International School at Sanpada, Prabhu was involved in both cricket as well as football. “Once, my dad asked me to pick one out of the two games. That is when I chose football,” he began.

That was the beginning of a new phase in his career, after which he joined the then renowned Mumbai FC. For the uninitiated, the defender went on to get a call-up for the U-17 national team camp in Delhi prior to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. Unfortunately, he missed out on the final roster, but he took it on the chin and moved on, seeking to work harder to reach the higher level.

“After the camp, I began focusing on improving myself in the game. I had been rejected at the final stage, but I took it in a positive way and moved on rather than give up,” he added.

After playing in the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) divisions, Prabhu was inducted into the then FC Pune City U-18 side. He subsequently shifted base to Hyderabad in 2019 and was the captain of their reserves side in the Second Division League.

Nikhil Prabhu
Nikhil Prabhu donning the captain’s armband for Hyderabad FC last season
Photo: Hyderabad FC Media

Interestingly, Nikhil Prabhu has his roots in the city and thus it was a ‘return to home’ of sorts for him. “Playing for the Hyderabad FC Reserves I had a great experience with coach Anshul (Katiyar). Later, I went on to train with the senior team too and that helped me grow and eventually earn a contract with them.”

Meanwhile, the club recently also appointed Thangboi Singto as their assistant coach and the Technical Director (Youth). The former Odisha FC and Shillong Lajong coach has huge experience of working with young players. He has already begun work with the first-team in pre-season and Nikhil Prabhu in particular was full of praise for the coach. “As young players, we need coaches (like him) to guide us to the top level. He tells us about his experiences working with the other young players (who have achieved greater heights) and pushes us citing that we can reach those heights too.”

“As a young player, I am looking forward to making it to the first-team at Hyderabad FC. I am also looking to don the national team jersey one day and become one of the top centre-backs in India,” he asserted.

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As the discussion progressed, the player revealed the defenders he looks up to as his role-models. “I look up to Sergio Ramos and Sandesh Jhingan, as they are very aggressive, yet very calm on the pitch.”

“I watch him (Jhingan) a lot whenever he plays for the national team as well as for clubs. There are many similar qualities we have like height and build and I want to become like him. I want to play alongside him one day,” concluded Nikhil Prabhu on a positive note.

The youngster has been through thick and thin in his career so far and it will be interesting to watch him make his debut for the team in the upcoming campaign of the ISL.

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