Whenever one talks about grassroots sportspersons, there is usually the lingering gripe of that person’s ability to stay committed through all the roadblocks littered on the pathway toward the fulfillment of his dreams. However, in the case of Siddharth Nayak, there is no such ambiguity or diffidence to be found. The 22-year-old has jumped through all the right hoops so far and has the next one firmly in his crosshairs.
Initially, he was split between the beautiful game and the game that drove the nation but it was not long before he made his choice, “I started playing at the age of eight. I used to play football and cricket both. But after I got selected for the Maharashtra U-13 team, I started taking interest in playing football only.”
“Only four players from our school were selected for the Maharashtra team,” Siddharth says proudly. Playing at that level was an eye-opening experience for Siddharth, “Going up against players from places like Goa and Kolkata, I realized there were better players than me out there!”
After a successful stint in school, the Barca fan from Borivli continued honing his craft during his college years, “After my school, I went to Saint Andrews college. That was quite an experience. I came to know about a whole different standard of football.”
During this time, he found himself at the pinnacle of his city as he represented Junior I-League as part of the Elite division of Mumbai FC, “I had gone to Kolkata to represent Mumbai. That was the first time I started playing truly professional football. I came to know about the practical changes, how to modulate my strength during the game, ball control and a lot of in-depth stuff.”
Following this first taste of professional football and a year at the Air-India Academy, Siddharth went on to join the vaunted Air-India Senior Team on a two-year contract. “Starting off, I was on the reserve team but once I got the chance to play, I got to play regularly. That year, we won eight tournaments and including the Mumbai District Football Association Championship.”
It was during this stint at Air-India that he got to play in the prestigious Santosh Trophy, “I was the youngest player on the team. That was when I truly learned how to be professional and give a 100 percent. That same year, we also played in the National Games in Kerela and came away third.”
However, just as the good times were rolling, they came to a painful halt. “We were practicing on the Air-India grounds. I went for a tackle and injured my knee, tearing the ligament. I spent the end of my second year with Air-India getting operated upon and recuperating. It was my first big injury and was set to be out for eight months.”
“During this time, I could not wait to get back on the field,” says Siddharth, echoing the sentiment of a true sportsman.
Once he was back on the field after the hiatus, he wasted no time in dusting the rust off and got back into the grind of his fitness routine and football practice. Soon, ONGC came knocking in 2015, with whom he played all-India tournaments and enjoyed victory in the Mumbai League.
So what’s next for the young prodigy? “Currently, I am trying to enter the I-League. I hope to do well in my trials. After that, I dream of playing for India on the world stage.”
How confident is he about his chances? “I’m ready,” comes the reply without any further deliberation.
Siddharth, who cites his family, particularly his mother, as his biggest supporters in his sporting endeavours, signs off with these pearls of inspiration, “Never lose hope. Keep trying. Even if you don’t get results first time out, you should never lose hope. If you’re passionate about something, you should never give up.”