The 22-year-old spoke about his journey to signing for the Yellow Army and his ambitions going forward.

On Friday, just two days after the official announcement, Kerala Blasters’ latest signing Nishu Kumar made his first-ever live appearance before the fans of his new club. Assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed hosted the online interaction via the Yellow Army’s official Instagram handle.

During the half hour-long interview, the versatile defender spoke on a host of topics such as the best moments of his footballing career to date, his training methods amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and his biggest ambitions for both club and country.

“I’m feeling super excited (about playing for Kerala Blasters). I am very happy and I thank the club for the wonderful opportunity,” Nishu Kumar began, before shedding light on his earliest days in football.

Kerala Blasters recently announced the signing of Nishu Kumar on social media

“I started my career at a very early age. When I was 6-years-old, I began playing the game in a small ground near my place in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. I remember that although I was not overly crazy about football, I quite liked it. Football is not very popular in UP – at least not as much as cricket – and that is probably one of the reasons why the state has not produced many good players. However, I got inspired by a few seniors who used to live in the sports hostel nearby. They were quite skilled and looking at them, I decided to join an academy to start making progress in my career.”

“In the beginning, I got support from my father but my mother wanted me to focus on academics. Sooner or later, my father also started facing pressure from outsiders to force me to study and that pegged me back a bit as well. Eventually, I had to beg him to allow me 2-3 years to prove myself and that changed everything. I soon joined the Chandigarh Football Academy. From there, I got called up to the U-15 national team in Mumbai and after spending over a year there, I got my first U-19 call-up in Goa. In 2015, Bengaluru FC came calling and afterwards, the senior national team,” he explained his career graph.

“Signing for the Blasters is easily one of the best decisions that I have made so far,” Nishu Kumar went on. “When the club’s officials approached me for the first time, they spoke to me in great detail about their project and plans for the future. They assured me that they were creating a good team and on my end, I was looking for new challenges myself. The prospect of playing for a new team in a new city is definitely a proper test for every footballer – and when it is KBFC, the challenge only becomes bigger.”

“Everyone wants to play for the Yellow Army. I remember that when I started playing professionally, I had already made up my mind to play for them one day. I also spoke about it to Karolis Skinkys, the new Sporting Director of the club and he was excited as well.”

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One of Nishu Kumar’s biggest strengths is his versatility. The 22-year-old has played as a full-back on both sides of the pitch and was also occasionally employed as a left or right winger. “I was also a midfielder once, for five minutes maybe,” he said, while speaking to Ishfaq Ahmed, who asked him about his favourite position. “Centre-back was my preferred position till U-17. During that time, I used to follow Chelsea a lot and John Terry – their former captain and centre-back – remains my favourite player. These days, I mostly play as a full-back, so now I follow (Cezar) Azpilicueta,” he added.

The likes of Jessel Carneiro and Lalruatthara, who are also full-backs, are a part of the Kerala Blasters setup as well. This has resulted in confusion among fans as to who will play at which position. Addressing the issue, Ishfaq Ahmed clarified that while a final team combination is yet to be confirmed, Jessel is likely to play on the left side while Nishu will feature as a right-back.”

The next question to Kumar was about the one Indian footballer who inspires him the most. It was not surprising that he picked the name of his Indian national team and former Bengaluru FC teammate and captain Sunil Chhetri.

“Chhetri is one of my biggest inspirations. He is a great professional and also very passionate about the game. The level of hard work and dedication that he gives to football is easily the main reason why he is one of the top footballers that India has ever produced. He has motivated me a lot,” he said.

“At Kerala Blasters, Jeakson Singh is my favourite player. I saw him perform very well last season. He is cool and calm and also quite strong – all the qualities needed for a defensive midfielder. I am also looking forward to teaming up with the likes of Bartholomew Ogbeche, Sahal Abdul Samad, Rahul KP, Jessel and Seityasen Singh among others.”

Nishu Kumar also quoted that his maiden international goal, which he scored against Jordan, is one of the most memorable moments of his career so far. Upon being asked about his biggest ambitions, he said that he hopes to lift the Indian Super League (ISL) title with Kerala Blasters, before playing in the AFC Champions League as a representative of both the club and his country. “To be a part of the club when lifting the ISL trophy and playing in the ACL will be a huge achievement,” he said.

The youngster also explained the reason behind picking the No. 22 shirt at his new club, saying that he has been wearing the number on his back since his U-15 days. “While I was still at the Chandigarh Football Academy, I used to wear No. 4. When I got my U-15 Indian team call-up, the no. 4 shirt was already taken. Out of the numbers that were still available, I took 22 and later when I got selected to the team, I felt that the number was lucky for me. I have been wearing No. 22 shirts since then.”

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Nishu Kumar concluded the interview by saying that he cannot wait for conditions to return to normal within the country, so that football can resume.

“Needless to say, the ongoing lockdown has been quite tough for all footballers. My case is no different, but I have been trying to make the most out of it by enjoying my mother’s dishes and by training occasionally, so as to keep myself fit. I look forward to the beginning of the new season so that I can play in front of my new club’s fans. Speaking about them, they are a very important part of the team. With good support from them, I may be able to put in 200% effort – and hence, I am very excited to play in front of them,” he signed off.

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