Bengaluru FC's Sivasakthi making heads turn

Indian striker from Karaikudi showing plenty of promise this season; former India international Raman Vijayan backs youngster to keep up impressive run
Bengaluru FC's Sivasakthi Narayanan (C) has scored six goals so far in the ISL this season.
Bengaluru FC's Sivasakthi Narayanan (C) has scored six goals so far in the ISL this season.

BENGALURU: As the Sri Kanteerava Stadium slowly emptied following Bengaluru FC's emphatic 3-1 victory over FC Goa, a commotion could be heard from the section directly above the player's tunnel. In the years gone by, the easy conclusion would have been that Sunil Chhetri was exiting the stadium.

But on Thursday night, he was still on the pitch with a few of his teammates. Instead, all the noise and excitement was for someone who just might be Chhetri's successor not just in the darker blue of BFC but in the Indian football team’s version of the colour as well.

Over the years, Indian football has thrown up a number of wrong answers to the question "Who after Chhetri?"

But, Sivasakthi Narayanan might just be the right answer. It has been a breakthrough season for the 22-year-old from Karaikudi and his two goals on Thursday took him into double figures for the season — a rare achievement for an Indian striker. Five of those had come in the Durand Cup while six had been scored in the Indian Super League. The latter six goals (and two assists) have come in just 898 minutes of football.

It does seem foolhardy to proclaim Sivasakthi as Indian football's next big hope based on performances spanning such a short space of time. But the people who know him best are bullish. "He works hard every day in training," said Bengaluru coach Simon Grayson after the game. "That’s what he does. His stats are probably higher than anybody."

Chhetri himself referred to Sivasakthi as a superstar following his exploits in the Durand Cup. But the man most convinced by his talent is someone who has known him longer than most. Raman Vijayan first came across Sivasakthi when the youngster turned up to his coaching academy as an 11-year-old. The former India striker has been there to hold his hand every step of the way since."He comes from a very poor background," Vijayan says.

"Within a year of joining my academy, his father passed away. His mother was a mid-day meal cook at a school. But right from the start, you could see that the talent and the skills were there. He was underdeveloped physically — he still has some way to go in that regard — but you could tell that he was special. After finishing tenth, he started developing into a proper striker, scoring goals in inter-school, inter-college and age-group tournaments."

Vijayan has seen his share of flash-in-the-pan players in Indian football. But he thinks Sivasakthi has the talent to be the exception. "He never gets upset, never has a negative attitude. Till the last minute, he believes he can score. He is a very, very focused guy. That quality, in this generation, is very difficult to come by."

Vijayan recently called Sivasakthi's mother to let her know that her son was now a star and people were chanting his name from the stands. "I asked her if she knew if any of this was happening. She told me that Siva had recently bought her a touchscreen phone and had taught her how to watch his matches on the device."On Thursday, India coach Igor Stimac too was watching Sivasakthi's Man of the Match display. It is likely only a matter of time before his mother watches him play for the national team on her new phone.

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The New Indian Express