The average length of a football field, has been described as being anywhere between 100 yards to 130 yards. The green turf has been home to some of the most inspiring and intriguing stories of football’s greatest world over. Somewhere in between the greatest and the most inspiring stories are those tales which revel in the journeys of footballers. The tale of Pune FC’s midfielder Nikhil Kadam is somewhere there.
Having had modest beginnings in Kolhapur, he joined the ranks of the Peninsula Pune FC Academy as a member of the Under-19 team and gradually worked his way to the senior team. And now, three seasons later, Nikhil has been called to Goa for the Under-23 national team camp.
The Pune FC Media Team caught up with Nikhil on the sidelines on the eve of his departure and spoke to him about his journey on the football field and the road ahead.
Nikhil, you come from Kolhapur, where professional football is still in its infancy. How was it playing football back then and the journey to Pune FC?
Well to be honest, the game has fascinated me ever since I was a little boy. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that my grandfather, father and my uncle were all footballers. The biggest inspiration was my uncle. He played for the Maharashtra State Police team. In fact I used to accompany him as a small boy to see him train and that is where it all began.
I began playing at my school level from where I later on moved to Krida Prabodhini in Pune, after they invited me over for a trial. It was in 2011 however that things changed completely. I gave a trial for Pune FC’s Under-19 team and eventually was drafted into the team. That is where things changed completely.
Could you run us by what changes took place?
The most important change was bringing professionalism in. Like even back home in Kolhapur there are boys who can become fantastic footballers because they are so talented. The only problem that stops them from being as such is a lack of a professional attitude. I am lucky in so many ways that I moved out from there and came here and eventually was taken in by Pune FC. They not only taught me to improve my game, but also learn to think about playing the game on a bigger level. Everything changed. Right from the way I perceived the game to how to attack, and then quickly fall back, the finer nuances of the game and a lot more. The biggest plus point was the experience that it generated in terms of the seniors, the other players, the coaches, the support staff and everyone involved with our work. Everyone provided us with learning and direction, which really helped me in my nascent years.
How did the title winning performance in the 2011-12 U20 I-League help shape your career?
When we played the tournament in 2011-12, we had a very good run winning all the nine games on a trot. In the final round, I scored three goals which helped us win the league eventually. The performance definitely helped me a lot and I was inducted into the senior team in 2012.
In the senior team, under coach Derrick Pereira, I learnt how the game was played on a more intense level than the Under-19 level. The senior players bought their own experience and always motivated me. The foreign players also taught me to mould my game in accordance with the way it was played internationally and I assimilated it all.
Now, under Coach Karim Bencherifa, I have learnt to play a game which is very focussed, he has taught me the importance of total fitness, and how there are a lot more tweaks that are needed for my game to become even better. It is an ongoing process and one that is only making me better.
Coming to the selection for the Under-23 national team camp, how was the feeling when you learnt about your name being in the shortlist?
Oh I literally jumped in my room and I had this huge grin on my face. Everyone, my teammates, seniors, juniors and others came and congratulated me for the selection. But after the euphoria died out I came back down to ground zero. I have been selected for the national camp because somewhere someone has seen my work and found to be good. I have to be better. I have to give it my very best, and go beyond it. So now I am back to getting focussed on the camp as well as my game. Getting into the camp was the first step. Now proving your mettle and getting selected for the team is the next step. Like our Coach says, in football or life, we cannot be sitting and gloating on previous glories. We have to keep moving ahead. Innovating, improving, implementing new styles and incorporating it in our game every day. It’s an ongoing learning process. And honestly I love it that way.
How were the reactions back home?
Ohh everyone was just jumping as though I had won a trophy or something. I mean there was so much happiness: first lad from my family to get selected in a national team camp; first lad from Kolhapur ever to get there. It is a proud moment for my family and friends. I have come this far only because of their unconditional support. I hope to make them, my Coach, the Club, my team mates here and everyone around very proud.
You had a good couple of games at the Balewadi Stadium and you even assisted Haokip twice. So how was the overall build up to the camp?
Yes, it felt great to get the two assists. However, the most important thing was that we maintained our unbeaten run at home and got the vital win against Royal Wahingdoh. We had a great team spirit which helped us grab the win in the heavy rain. Everyone in the team has been supporting each other and it is this unity which takes us through any situation.
Moreover, all five players selected for the U23 Camp from our team have come through the Peninsula Pune FC Academy. The time spent together in the junior teams will definitely help everyone and I would like to wish everybody all the best.