With the World Cup reaching its business end, many parts of India are caught up in football fever, but this is not applicable to Western Uttar Pradesh, where cricket continues to rule the roost.
However, there are always exceptions. 21-year-old Nishu Kumar, who is being hailed as one of Indian football’s young gems, comes from the communally-sensitive area of Bhopa in Muzaffarnagar and is now inspiring other youngsters to take up the sport professionally.
Popularly known as ‘Ronaldo Bhai’ by the kids in Bhopa, Nishu recently bagged a lucrative two-year Rs 1 crore contract to play for Bengaluru Football Club (Bengaluru FC), India’s best football club.
Nishu Kumar (Source: Facebook/Nishu Kumar)
In the first year, he will earn Rs 40 lakh, followed by Rs 45 lakh in the second year, and a Rs 15 lakh match bonus.
With little scope for the game in the state, the son of a peon at Janta Inter College made it through immense toughness, perseverance and hard work.
“Nishu is exceptional. He practised day and night. I only guided him with my limited resources and abilities, but it was his hard work and determination that made him what he is today. Otherwise, football is unheard of in the region. There is not a single stadium, forget about financial assistance. There is a lot of hidden talent here, but the government hardly pays attention to this sport,” Kuldeep Rathi, Nishu’s first coach and sports teacher at Janta Inter College, told Times of India.
Having joined Bengaluru FC three years ago, Nishu has made the left back position his own. As one Bengaluru FC official told ToI, “Nishu is a valuable asset for the club and made a phenomenal improvement as a left back ever since he came to the club. He deserved the contract and will go a long way.”
Meanwhile, Nishu’s story is inspiring kids from Bhopa to take up the sport despite the lack of facilities. “He is a constant source of inspiration to us, and always tells us that it is our loss if we complain about the lack of facilities. If he can do it, so can we,” says Gaurav Singh, a teenager, to ToI.
Nishu, meanwhile, has an interesting take on his rise to stardom. He says that he began playing football because it is the cheapest sport—all it needs is a ball.
“We used to play football on the school ground under the guidance of our school sports teacher. Gradually, I became increasingly involved in the sport. And, one day an opportunity came in the form of trials at Chandigarh Football Club in which I qualified,” Nishu tells the publication.
Two years later, he was selected for the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Elite Academy and represented India at the under-19 level before joining Bengaluru FC in 2015.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)