ISL: Bangalore based Kickstart FC's young midfielder Nikhil Raj signs for Odisha FC
The Juggernauts have confirmed the signing of young midfielder Nikhil Raj from Kickstart FC, a BDFA Super Division team.
Nikhil Raj, the boy who started playing football to support his widowed mother, lit up the BDFA super division last year with his performances. And that has earned him a call from the Indian Super League outfit Odisha FC. He set to join the Bhubaneshwar-based club on a one-year loan deal.
Nikhil was first spotted at the Kickstart Foundation's initiative at Murphy Town grounds when he came for the U-18 selection for the Holland trip. In the first match of that trip, he scored a spectacular goal in the game's third minute. His wonderful performances on the pitch caught the eye of many foreign scouts. After Holland, he accompanied Kickstart FC coach Laxman Bhattarai in the U-19 trials in Esbjerg, Denmark.
After two stints in Europe, he went on loan to the Indian Arrows in the I-League and made nine appearances for them. The Indian Arrows coach Venkatesh Shanmugam was impressed by Nikhil's performances, and has had a major role to play in his development as a player, and enhancing his skills on and off the ball.
Nikhil has been a part of the Karnataka team at two editions of the Santosh Trophy and has been one of the best midfielders in the BDFA Super Division.
"He was the best midfielder of the Bangalore Super Division 2021. Now he is being loaned to Odisha FC in the ISL 2021-22. We have bigger plans for Nikhil in Europe for 2022-23. We believe in empowering talent to make an impact at the world level. We wish our star No 10 makes a big impact for Odisha FC and takes the ISL by storm. We are there for him in every step. We want to thank Nikhil for having faith in us." said Shekar Rajan, the founder and chairman of Kickstart.
What makes the moment very special for Kickstart FC is that the club was started five years ago with the aim of identifying young talent and helping them grow to become one of the best players in the country. The deal of Nikhil with Odisha FC, who plays in the top-flight league of India, is just the first step towards what the club wants to achieve. Nikhil has been associated with Kickstart since he was 16, and now at the age of 20, he is ready to play in the ISL. He has been coached by Laxman Bhattarai and Lars Sorenson, a Danish International Coach, and the coaches have always praised the talent, ethics, and discipline Nikhil possesses.
"There were many ISL and I league clubs that were trying to sign him last year, but I felt he was not ready mentally. He needed some more game time to gain that maturity and experience. So I made him play for KickstartFC last year in the BDFA league held in Bangalore, and he was awarded the best midfielder of the league." said coach Laxman Bhattarai about other club's interest in Nikhil.
"He is ready now, and it's time for him to go and showcase his talent in bigger leagues. What better than playing in the ISL. Thanks to Pradhyum Reddy sir for identifying Nikhil and helping him sign for Odisha FC. Odisha FC is a great ISL club, and that's why We have decided to send him for one year loan to play in the ISL this coming season. It's a proud moment for Nikhil for all of us in Kickstart FC. I wish Nikhil all the best and want him to perform very well in the ISL for Odisha FC," added Laxman.
In the coming years, both the founders, Laxman and Shekar, expect to see Nikhil play for a European club and the Indian senior national team. They feel he has what it takes to shine at the top, and if he focuses and gives his hundred percent in the coming season, the European dream is not far away.
"I am very happy. I am very excited to play in the Indian Super League. I expect to learn a lot of things there, and I know it's a big opportunity for me. I am very excited to play for Odisha FC." said Nikhil, when asked about how he felt about his move to Odisha FC.
The value of investing in grassroots and trusting the process to see players like Nikhil come up is what a club like Kickstart FC believes in. We can expect more players from the club to go to the top of the pyramid in Indian football in the coming years.