Born into hardship with challenging circumstances, Nandhakumar has been punching above his weight all his life. Explosive and intelligent skills honed on the dirt pitch in Vyasarpadi, then at SC Steds, Hindustan Eagles and then Chennai City and now reaching his peak for Delhi Dynamos as a winger. Despite Dynamos dismal league campaign, the Chennai-lad is ready to go another round.
Indian football is filled with stories of talented footballers, but limited imagination. As the adage goes, Nandhaâ€™s early life was no bed of roses. The suburb of Vyasarpadi, where little Nandha grew up, is a place blighted by tough, working-class neighbourhood battles with poverty, sparse employment opportunities, and a history of gang violence.
Add to that, his family was poor. His father used to work as an auto driver and his mother used to sell snacks outside school premises which provided the family with just Rs. 3000 to 5000 a month. There were days when his family survived single meal a day.
Just like the many other ceiling rose tales, the game of football ended up being Nandhaâ€™s salvation, who started kicking the ball at the age of about-10.
He was also a member of the Childrenâ€™s Collective Project, who helped him financially to complete his education especially when there was a threat of him having to drop out of school.
The first pair of boots
Despite having enormous talent, he played a lot of the time in barefoot as his parents could not afford to buy him any football boots. But he made it through his own efforts, alongside the support of SC Steds – Slum Children Sports Talent and Education Development Society, who played an enormous role in his footballing career – from the first pair of boots to pitch and to education – made sure that his early dream of playing a club football would be realized at the age of 12.
One can imagine a young Nandha, smacking the ball back and forth against a shoddy wall in the streets of Vyasarpadi under a flickering night lamp, or kicking and passing, splashing rainwater all around the tiny slum-river playground as the sun went down in the singara Chennai.
Following a quiet first season, Nandha started showing some potential play as he rose through the ranks into what many refer to him now as –Â more than a winger.
During his four year stint with SC Steds, Nandhakumar helped the club win the fourth division title, then the third division and finished runners-up in the second division.
After joining B.Com at Hindustan University, with a full scholarship while playing for the Hindustan Eagles. His game thrived, which ultimately got him a spot in the Tamil Nadu Santosh Trophy squad and also lauded by the Barcelona (the club he supports) legend Ronaldinho, during his stint with Premier Futsal. To put it simply, his time in Hindustan Eagles was phenomenal.
Nandhaâ€™s rapid rise at Eagles saw him attract the attention of Chennai City FC, who signed him in 2016. He arrived at the club to little fanfare in the middle of the season, but his impact on the pitch was almost immediate as he showed a sense of occasion, scoring the equaliser in Chennai City’s headline result of the season â€“ a 2-1 win over East Bengal at home, announcing himself to the fans in the most memorable way possible.
Linking up with forward and defence with the addition of goalscoring exploits with the I-League outfit saw him become a fan favourite. During the short stint, Nandha has shown enough potential to be taken note of. He also went on to become one of the findings of the tournament with two goals in six appearances.
His impressive pace and his movement with the ball caught the eye of the National Team Head Coach, Stephen Constantine who gave the midfielder his maiden call-up to the Indian team in Asian Football Confederation, U-23 side in 2017.
By all accounts, Nandhaâ€™s game was as good as his heart. It was never his desire to move out of Chennai, but his talent did not go unnoticed. And then, came the move that would change Nandhaâ€™s life as the new-looked Delhi Dynamos wanted him on loan to test whether he would fit right in or late.
Wasnâ€™t too late either as ISL is a gateway for youngsters from around India, a place to mature tactically and grow as a player in a competitive, high-quality footballing environment.
Nandhakumar was deeply embedded in the traditions and culture of Chennai and his beloved language â€œTamilâ€� too, and the question was asked if he had left for Delhi too soon. Was he too young; was he too much of a hometown boy?
He was given few chances to sparkle during the pre-season, which he did by scoring a thunderous long-range and then came the downside being stay put on the sidelines for five weeks and then came upside –Â the two successive impressive performances against Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC which earned him a permanent deal with the Delhi Dynamos.
But he fared well than expected and the Dynamos fans have only been able to see momentary glimpses of his talent, the best is yet to come.
Now, the diminutive winger has more or less adapted seamlessly to the demands of Indian Super League with his blend of power and technical prowess and almost slotted straight into the Dynamo starting XI, has the qualities required to succeed in his position.
These are early days for the young player but he has the talent to hold down a position for the club in the near future. He has not featured for the Blue Tigers but has been called up recently to the Under-23 squad. But, with his work ethic and undoubted talent, it will not be long before that first senior international appearance arrives, he could set the wings on fire.
Nandhaâ€™s growth is truly encouraging, for a man who has faced challenges right from being born to being secure a starting XI spot in an I-League club, that too, all in short period of time is nothing short of an astonishing story of sheer dedication and passion for the game.
Nandhakumar Sekar is a living proof that your dreams can come true if you dream big and work hard.
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Source: Matchday Frolics