INDIAN FOOTBALL

Sivasakthi of Bengaluru FC is turning heads

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When the Sri Kanteerava Stadium progressively emptied following Bengaluru FC’s impressive 3-1 victory against FC Goa, a ruckus could be heard from the area just above the player’s tunnel. In previous years, the obvious inference would have been that Sunil Chhetri was leaving the stadium.

Yet he was still on the field with a couple of his colleagues on Thursday night. Instead, the focus was on someone who might be Chhetri’s successor not just in the deeper blue of BFC, but also in the Indian football team’s version of the color.

Throughout the years, Indian football has produced a slew of incorrect answers to the question

“Who comes after Chhetri?”

Nonetheless, Sivasakthi Narayanan might be the appropriate solution. The 22-year-old from Karaikudi has had a breakout season, and his two goals on Thursday put him in double digits for the season, a remarkable feat for an Indian striker. Five of those came in the Durand Cup, while six came in the Indian Super League. The last six goals (and two assists) came in 898 minutes of football.

It appears rash to declare Sivasakthi as Indian football’s next major hope based on such a short period of success. Yet those closest to him are optimistic.

“He works hard in training every day,”

Bengaluru coach Simon Grayson remarked after the game.

“That’s exactly what he does. His numbers are definitely better than everyone else’s.”

Sivasakthi Narayanan (C) of Bengaluru FC has six goals in the ISL this season.

Following his performance in the Durand Cup, Chhetri referred to Sivasakthi as a superstar. Yet the one most persuaded of his ability is someone who has known him the longest. Raman Vijayan initially met Sivasakthi when he was 11 years old and showed up at his coaching facility. Since then, the former India striker has been at his side every step of the way.

“He hails from a very impoverished family,”

Vijayan explains.

“His father died within a year after entering my academy. His mother was a mid-day lunch chef at a school. Yet it was clear from the start that ability and abilities were present. He was physically undeveloped — he still has a ways to go in that department — but you could tell he was unique. He began maturing into a genuine striker after completing ninth, netting goals in inter-school, inter-college, and age-group events.”

Vijayan has seen his fair share of one-hit wonders in Indian football. Yet, he believes Sivasakthi has the potential to be the exception. “He never gets offended, never has a bad attitude. He feels he can score till the very last second. The boy is an extremely focused individual. That trait is really rare to find in our generation.”

Vijayan recently contacted Sivasakthi’s mother to inform her that her son had become a celebrity and that fans were singing his name from the stands.

“I asked her whether she was aware of any of this. She informed me that Siva had lately purchased a touchscreen phone for her and had taught her how to follow his matches on it.”

Igor Stimac, India’s coach, was also watching Sivasakthi’s Man of the Match performance on Thursday. It’s only a matter of time until his mother uses her new phone to watch him play for the national team.

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