The young winger speaks about football, life in Kolkata and his dreams for the future…
Before the start of the season the I-League mandated that all teams must start an U-22 in their line-up in all games. Although the move was aimed at promoting youth development, there was some disquiet among the clubs. That notwithstanding, one beneficiary of the new maxim has been East Bengal’s young winger Nikhil Poojary, who has been with the club since 2015.
Poojary, who has been touted for big things for some time now, struggled to find opportunities with the Red and Gold in previous seasons. However, with more than half of the current campaign gone, the dynamic starlet has made a starting berth on the right flank his own.
With Trevor Morgan’s men chasing a first I-League crown in the revamped tournament’s history, Poojary has been an ever-present in the team, thriving under the confidence of his manager. The winger spoke exclusively to Khel Now about his journey in football, the team’s title quest and his aspirations for the future. Excerpts:
Q1. How did you come to be part of the sport?
Its actually a very funny story. Back in 2004, I had attended a trial which was supposed to be for cricket but fortunately for me, it was the other sport (football). From that day onwards, you may call it destiny or fate, but it all changed. Sunil Sir and Amjad Sir helped me a lot in the initial days and they have played a huge part in my journey.
Q2. While at Ryan FC, you were selected in the Maharashtra team for the U-19 Finals. How was that experience?
I was playing for my school team until I was 14 where we could say it was my first Club Ryan FC which was a mixture of players from all the Ryan schools in the MDFA league. Post which I got the call for Maharashtra U-15s which introduced me to the world of football.
Q3. When did you start looking at football as a career?
After playing for Maharashtra it was Mumbai FC and the Nike MUPC Cup where I captained the side and we reached our maiden Final and I somehow managed to bag the Player of the Tournament. This was all because of our coach Naushad Moosa). That year was exceptionally telling as that season gave me confidence that I can do it.
Poojary in action as a youth player in Mumbai FC ranks.
Q4. Who is your footballing inspiration or idol? Why?
My only inspiration was to make it big. There is Vijith Shetty and Rahul Bheke who is still my partner at KEB. Winning trophies and seeing all the celebrations has been my biggest motivation after all we play to celebrate, celebrate the game and celebrate life.
Q5. Who is the one person who has played in key role is shaping your career? Why?
Actually there are many people as mentioned earlier Naushad Moosa back when I was 15. Moving on when I joined Mumbai Tigers it was Bimal Ghosh, giving me my first contract. There were my mentors at Air India, Godfred Pereira and Anthony Fernandes. Air India gave me a lot of exposure at a very young age. Post which it has undoubtedly been Alvito D’Cunha. He has been my support system at the club (KEB) in the big league. Also a special mention for my manager Birbal who has been part of this journey through thick and thin.
Q6. You have been with East Bengal for the past two years. How has the experience been?
The first year I joined mid-season and was immediately plagued by injury. The recovery took long. Sitting in the stands was a whole new experience. From starting every match to being on the stands was a learning curve. Year two has been excellent, from starting sporadically in the Calcutta Football League to being a regular is a great feeling.
Nikhil Poojary with the East Bengal starting XI in the I-League this season.
Q7. Has it been difficult playing away from home in Kolkata?
It’s a difficult thing for sure, but this is part of footballers’ life. I settled in quickly though with a bunch of football-loving friends and fans (of the club). Kolkata, I must say, is a hub of football. The recognition you get as a player is life changing.
Q8. How different is it to play for a club in Kolkata as compared to any other club?
The fans are the biggest differentiating factor, plus the history and the legacy. The amount of pride and love they have for the game is marvellous. There is a lot of pressure from the fans and the management. It really took time to adjust to so many people watching and cheering us on, even in practice sessions; it’s mad.
Q9. East Bengal are undefeated and are at the top of the table at the halfway mark of the season. How is the mood in the camp?
We are all feeling positive and we are working hard to keep the momentum going. We wish to stay there right till the end and lift the trophy for the fans and everyone associated with the club.
Q10. What is the difference between this East Bengal team and those in previous seasons?
Well, the core of the team has remained unchanged. It was a strong side back then as well. I feel that we have been more consistent this season.
Nikhil Poojary vies for the ball with Sony Norde in the Kolkata Derby.
Q11. Why do you think you can win the title this season more than ever?
We are scoring goals freely and keeping it tight at the back. That is the formula for success, isn’t it? We know its now, now is our time.
Q12. Your opinion about Trevor Morgan as a manager and how he has helped you improve as a player and a person?
He is indeed a good coach. All the players require a lot of support and fine-tuning into their playing styles and roles in the team. He is a good communicator and indeed he has been nurturing me a lot to grow into a better player.
Q13. How was the experience of playing in the Kolkata Derby?
It was a personal milestone for me. The morning of the match I spoke to my parents. It’s the biggest match in Indian football and I was part of it. It would have been great if we would have won it.
Q14. As one of the most talented youngsters in the country are you open to playing overseas?
Thank you for the compliment, but I have a long way to go. Yes I would love to play abroad. our immediate focus is to lift the I-League. My bigger target I would say is to represent the Blue Tigers and score.