One of the best young female footballers in the country, Kaviya P. of Kickstart FC has only just started
With an incredible 17 goals in 9 games in the recently concluded Karnataka Women's League, Kickstart FC's Kaviya P. is one for the future.
If you are someone who has even the tiniest bit of interest in Indian football, you would know that our national women's team is and has been much better than their male counterparts in terms of their competitiveness as well as global relevance for some time now. The Indian eves are ranked 55 in the world compared to Sunil Chhetri and company's 105, something one wouldn't be able to fathom considering the apathy that still persists towards the women's game. However, in recent years, the arrival of the Indian Women's League (IWL) and subsequently, a number of state qualifying leagues have ensured that now we at least have some sort of a structural framework to nurture young talent.
One such state league that has slowly risen to prominence is the Karnataka Women's Super Division, also known as the Karnataka Women's League (KWL). Over the last few years, the KWL has become the go-to state league for players from all parts of the country. Featuring names like Tanvie Hans and Aditi Chauhan, the league is arguably the most competitive in the country and has a number of strong teams gunning for the title, mostly from Bangalore. However, this is the story of a player who is unanimously viewed as one of the, if not the, best in Bangalore's footballing circuit, Kickstart FC's Kaviya P.
The forward has been the shining light for her side who have also been the dominant force in the league during the same time. A coincidence maybe, but an extremely happy one for sure! The 19-year-old scored a mind-boggling 17 goals in 9 games, including three hat-tricks, in the recently concluded KWL campaign and terrorized opposition defences throughout. Kickstart clinched the title on the last day with a narrow victory over Bangalore United FC and even then, it was Kaviya who got the all-important goal.
This tendency to thrive under pressure is something she has imbibed from her own experiences. Hailing from Tiruvarur in the Mannargudi district of Tamil Nadu, she has seen hardships in life that most others wouldn't even be able to fathom. "My father is a driver, mother a housewife. I have a sister who is in her third year of civil engineering and with special needs and my brother who currently studying arts in college. I myself am pursuing a Master's degree in political science," she says, a sense of pride evident in her eyes.
She started playing when she was in the fifth standard and has played the junior nationals thrice while in school. Then in college, she was part of a team that went on to become the all India University Runners up in the Khelo India games. Thereafter, she got introduced to Mr. Kalidasan, Director of Women's team at Kickstart FC through her college team coach Shivkumar, and eventually came to be a part of the Kickstart family. This was just ahead of the 2019 season, and there was no looking back after that..!!
Kaviya immediately took to the environment and culture at the club and her performances followed suit. "I really started to enjoy playing under Kali sir and Laxman sir. Although initially I was quite nervous, I settled down quickly and even managed to score seven goals in six games in my debut KWL season," she says with a beaming smile. Both these coaches form the bedrock for football education at Kickstart. While Mr. Laxman has previous experience of working closely with the French U14 side and is certified from as many as four different national federations, Mr. Kalidasan is a former state level player who is well-versed with the ins and outs of Indian football.
The IWL, which was held in Bangalore that year, followed soon after and with it came a chance for Kaviya to show her ability on the biggest stage for women's football in India. She didn't disappoint. Four goals in as many games later, she was the talk of the town. "Because I had played in the KWL just before this as well as the Khelo India games earlier, I was a little more confident.," the youngster quips, before adding, "We all stayed together and the arrangements made by the club were absolutely fantastic. Our diet, accommodation, training, safety was all taken care of thanks to Kickstart and that only improved further this season where we had a physio with us throughout as well as all kinds of medical equipment to help us recover quickly."
Since then, Kaviya's development as a player has been nothing short of sensational. Left-footed by nature, she has worked on her weaker foot and is now comfortable crossing and shooting with both. She has also become faster and more difficult to contain, as her tally in this season's campaign would suggest. But such is the uncertainty surrounding women's football in India that even after two consecutive 'Most Valuable Player' awards in the IWL, there is no clear passage to the national team.
"In our country, the lack of opportunities for female footballers is quite blatant. There are no jobs offered to us and there is no guarantee that a club that is an IWL regular will be looking to sign us, simply because their number is so less. Even the season is a curtailed one and is rarely organized without any hurdles. Furthermore, the option to go abroad and train is non-existent for people like me. Moreover, players are being picked from a smaller pool much to the discouragement for those waiting in the wings," she explains ruefully.
Fortunately, Kaviya's future has something completely different planned for her, and so has her club. The Kickstart FC management is pushing to send her out to play in Europe, with talks already underway with a few clubs in the Netherlands and a 'big' one in France. They are also looking at arranging her accommodation with a family that resides there instead of a hotel or rented facility, further underlining the genuine intent that the club has.
For now though, Kaviya is just the same as she has always been. She eats, thinks and sleeps football which is the reason why she deserves every bit of the praise and accolade that she is getting. One can only hope that once the pandemic situation comes under control, we'll be able to read about how a little girl from rural Tamil Nadu is making heads turn in Europe with a ball at her feet.