Indian Super League (ISL) side Hyderabad FC will play their second season at the top flight of Indian Football in 2020-21. The Nizams are undergoing a rebuild led by manager Manuel Marquez after a disappointing maiden season. Youngster Nikhil Poojary will be one of the several young talents on display looking to make their mark in the 7th season of the ISL.
Nikhil Poojary spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda on his playing journey, East Bengal playing experience, Hyderabad FC's ambitions, and the best moments from his playing career. Here are some excerpts from the Interview:
The early years: Nikhil Poojary's rise to the ISL
Nikhil Poojary started his career from the lower divisions of Mumbai Football, and eventually rose to play in the I-League and the ISL. He took us down the memory lane to tell his story as a young footballer, to donning the Red and Gold Jersey at East Bengal. He said:
'I started pretty young. I played for my school team and later for some local teams - Ryan FC, Dodsal FC, and then Mumbai FC. I was happy and playing well, hoping I would get an opportunity to play in Mumbai FC's first team, but that didn't happen. I was pretty dejected at not making it, but I was told that there was a trial at East Bengal, and at that point in time I told myself that this is my only opportunity.'
'So, I took a train from Mumbai to Kolkata, travelled in an unreserved seat, gave the trials, and got selected. Playing in Kolkata and playing for East Bengal was one of my greatest experiences. I was young and had just left home, I enjoyed playing and it was pretty exciting.'
Nikhil Poojary spent two seasons at East Bengal under Trevor James Morgan and Biswajit Bhattacharya. The bulk of his appearances for the Red and Golds came in the Calcutta Football League (CFL). He spoke vividly about his experience at East Bengal. He said:
'I had joined East Bengal through a trial and I was integrated into the first team, but I had to work my way through the ladder to get the chance. At first, I got a chance to play in the Calcutta Football League and I slowly was integrated into the I-League squad. I really enjoyed my time at East Bengal.'
Nikhil Poojary provided some key insights when asked about the fundamental differences between Kolkata and Mumbai football. He said:
'I believe there isn't much difference, honestly. Football is the same everywhere and the basic idea is to play to the free man and make the right decisions. One non-footballing difference which I experienced was that there were lots of fans even in the local league games in Kolkata which, I felt, was amazing.'
Living the dream: Nikhil Poojary's ISL playing experience
The Indian Super League revolutionised Indian football in 2014. Since then, both the I-League and the ISL have co-existed in Indian Football. Poojary talked about the fundamental differences between both the leagues. He has played in the I-League for East Bengal, while his first stint in the ISL was with the now-defunct FC Pune City. He said:
'The ISL and I-League are both pretty well-run leagues. With the ISL being a newer league it's well organized and has seen a steady stream of good overseas players coming in and improving the quality of the league further. For players like me, it is helpful as I get to learn from these players who have played around the globe when they share their journeys with us.'
Nikhil Poojary featured in 18 games in the 2019-20 season for Hyderabad FC. Speaking on his regular first team experience at the Nizams, he said:
'My time at Hyderabad FC has been amazing. Although the last season wasn't the best, it still helped me learn things. This year we have a new coaching team and have added new players. I am hopeful that we will do better and enjoy it even more.'
This will be Nikhil Poojary's second season at the club, and third season in the ISL. Poojary spoke about his season objectives. He said:
'My objective is simple, help my team win. That's the individual and team goal that I've set for myself this season.'
Nikhil Poojary wishes to play as many games as possible and win major silverware in the future. He said:
'Obviously, it's not set in stone, but my short-term goals are to play as many games as I can for my club and country, and long-term goals are to be winning trophies with them.'
For Nikhil Poojary, his return from injury for the Indian National Team in the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 in Bangladesh is the most memorable moment in his playing career. He said:
'My favourite memory has to be my first game back after the injury. It's memorable because of a lot reasons and I'm thankful to a lot of people, including former coach Constantine, the national team medical staff, and everyone who worked hard to get me back on the field. Hence, that game is one of the most important and memorable one for me.'Published 26 Oct 2020, 15:11 IST