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Charting new territories: Gyamar Nikum shines as Arunachal Pradesh's golden boy

Gyamar Nikum, the golden boy from Arunachal Pradesh, recently crowned as the I-League's Emerging Player, opens up about his remarkable journey to success.


Parashar Kalita

Updated: 25 April 2024 11:18 AM GMT

When the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) announced the I-League's best emerging player on April 17th, nineteen-year-old Gyamar Nikum, representing Inter Kashi, was in his ancestral village of Takey (Nyapin) in the Kurung Kumey district of Arunachal Pradesh. Limited internet access in the area initially prevented him from receiving the news directly, but through friends, he eventually learned of his achievement.

Doubts lingered until he confirmed the news himself, eliciting overwhelming joy and happiness from him and his family. In an exclusive interview with The Bridge, Nikum expressed his elation, saying, "I am incredibly happy and proud. This wouldn't have been possible without the support of my teammates and the coaching staff. Their guidance was invaluable throughout the season. I believe this was my best season yet, so I feel deserving of this recognition."

Gyamar Nikum holds the distinction of being the first player to compete in both the Indian Super League and the fourth player from Arunachal Pradesh to grace the I-League stage. Preceding him, Gumpe Rime, Nyamar Loyi, and Techi Tatra represented Arunachal Pradesh at the highest echelons of Indian club football.

Early days

Nikum's football journey started during his time at a boarding school, where limited sports options steered him towards football. "I found my passion for football in a boarding school environment where options were scarce. Football quickly became my addiction, especially after receiving my first pair of football shoes. It was at Lekhi Public School, Itanagar, where my love for football flourished," shared Nikum.

Arunachal Sporting Football Club, based in Itanagar, served as the starting point for Nikum's football journey. He later participated in senior-level tournaments with Polo City FC. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, Nikum and his football peers sought avenues to advance their careers, recognizing the absence of a top-tier academy in their state.

Nikum with Arunachal Sporting Football Club

"During the lockdown, with limited football activity, my friends and I explored the possibility of joining an academy. Through social media, we stumbled upon the Rajasthan United academy and reached out to them, eventually receiving a response," reflecting on this period Nikum remarked.

The Sacrifices

Nikum's father, Gyamar Tajik is a former football player who represented the Arunachal Pradesh football team in the 1999 Santosh trophy. "Despite my own involvement in football, I couldn't achieve much in the sport. When Nikum expressed interest in joining the Rajasthan United academy, I initially worried and advised him to prioritize his studies. However, he remains determined to pursue his passion," Tajik said.

"I always heard stories about my father's glory days on the football field, but sadly, I never had the chance to witness his skills firsthand. I often wish I could have seen him play, even just once," Nikum reminisced.

"I never had formal training; most of my football experience came from playing with friends on school grounds during weekends and vacations. However, I did represent my state for under-16 and under-18 teams, which gave me some valuable insights into the game. Once, I was too afraid to ask my parents for football shoes, so I turned to my big brother for help. After that, I realized how much I loved playing, and I've never looked back since," shared Nikum.

Nikum with his family

To fulfill his football dream, hi mother Gyamar Nyuniu, went above and beyond by taking a personal loan from a private party to send Nikum to the Rajasthan United Academy. "My family, especially my mom and my brother, supported me immensely," Nikum expressed. "They did everything in their power to ensure I could join the academy, despite my father's initial concerns. With their support, along with that of my friends, I've been able to give my best effort at Rajasthan United," Nikum added.

Turning point

"Joining Rajasthan United has been the best decision of my life. At the beginning, adjusting was tough due to our different food habits. I faced nervousness and lacked confidence, but my teammates and the club provided comfort and support. I must mention Kamal Singh Saroha sir, who has been a special source of support and remains in touch with me to this day," Nikum reflected on his journey.

Nikum's transfer to Mumbai City FC for a fee of 60 lakhs marked a significant milestone in his career. "Before the winter transfer window of 2023, I heard rumors about clubs showing interest in me, but I couldn't believe it," Nikum said.

"When I first joined Mumbai City FC, I was impressed by how good and professional everyone was. Even though I got injured, I got used to everything slowly. Being the youngest player, everyone helped me a lot, especially Bipin," he added.

Shining in Banaras

Nikum's journey with Inter Kashi was nothing short of remarkable. On loan from his parent club, he made an immediate impact, scoring his debut goal against Churchill Brothers FC Goa in the 87th minute, securing a crucial win.

Under the guidance of head coach Carlos Santamarina, Nikum found not just mentorship but also trust and confidence, enabling him to excel on the field. Surrounded by supportive seniors and cherished friendships, Nikum's time with Inter Kashi transformed him both as a player and as a person, reigniting his confidence and joy in the game.

His contributions are undeniable, with four goals and four assists in the I-League 2023-24 season, each resulting in his team's unbeaten streak whenever he found the net or provided an assist.

Nikum will now return to Mumbai City FC with the hopes of making a significant impact in the ISL. His ultimate aspiration, however, extends beyond club football; "I hope one day I get a call-up for the national team, for that I have to work harder.”

Message to the youngsters

Nikum's advice to the youth of Arunachal Pradesh is concise yet impactful. "To pursue a career in football, encourage your parents to enroll you in a reputable football academy. This way, you can work on your skills while continuing your education and steering clear of damaging habits like tobacco, alcohol, and drugs," Nikum emphasized.

Nikum envisions the positive impact of establishing a football academy and a team competing in the I-league from Arunachal Pradesh.

"Like states such as Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Manipur have a team in the I league, if a team or a proper academy were to be established in Arunachal Pradesh, young players from the state wouldn't need to go elsewhere. They could begin their journey here and then progress further. I hope that some team from outside will start an academy in the state," Nikum signed off with a hopeful smile.

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