“I’m over the moon, but there’s so much more to do”

With A Maiden Goal For The First Team Under His Belt, Sivasakthi Narayanan Is Brimming With Confidence. We Sat Down With The Latest Player From the Blues’ Stable To Make The Step Up, Who Maintains That His Gaze Is Firmly Set On Newer Targets…

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Bengaluru FC B graduate Sivasakthi Narayanan. First, the Sivagangai native made the trip to Bellary where he joined Marco Pezzaiuoli’s side for pre-season training. Then, when he found his name on the list to fly to Maldives, it would mark the 20-year-old’s first international trip. On Tuesday night in Male, his immaculate touch and finish became the first of what we are sure will be many goals to come.

He takes a moment to pause and gather his thoughts when asked about how he is feeling right now. To him, it feels like he has waited forever for this moment. “It feels good. A little surreal, perhaps, but mostly good. It was a very proud moment for me, and one I will never forget.”

Despite being left behind for the Blues’ AFC Cup clash against Tribhuvan Army FC in April, a game where his friend and teammate Damaitphang Lyngdoh made his first team debut, Sivasakthi kept plugging away. COVID-19 forced the postponement of the continental games and lockdowns in India meant training was down to bare minimum, but the desire to make the step up fueled the youngster’s intentions. He didn’t want to be someone who simply rubbed shoulders with the senior players; the desire was to knock on the door until it opened.

“I was happy when I was called up to training with the first team after the BDFA season ended, and initially it was all a little too much to take,” he says, recollecting the first time he stepped onto the Bangalore Football Stadium pitch to train under Marco Pezzaiuoli. “I think I put too much pressure on myself and I was overawed by the situation, to be honest. But I settled down quickly, and it didn’t take long for me to feel a part of the group. I was part of the squad for the Preliminary Stage match, but I didn’t make the cut to travel to Goa for the game. After that, there was a break because of the pandemic. I was just so eager to get back on the pitch, training with the players and catch the attention of coach [Naushad] Moosa and coach Marco.”

After being left out for the Blues’ clash against Tribhuvan Army, Sivasakthi worked harder to get his name into the Blues’ itinerary. “When I was told that I was going to be part of the travelling squad for the games in Maldives, it felt very good. To be included in the first team squad for a big team like Bengaluru FC is like a dream come true. It’s something that I had dreamt of since I first kicked the ball as a child.”

As the Blues defeated Club Eagles in the playoff and lost to ATK Mohun Bagan in their first group game, Sivasakthi watched on from the bench. “Coach Marco has always been very open with all the players. He demands everything in training, and if you give your all and stick to what he says, you have a chance of getting on the pitch for him. And that’s irrespective of how old or young you are. I knew my time would come, because I worked hard. I just didn’t know when.”

Needing a win to stay in the race for a spot in the knockout stages, the Blues were locked in a goalless battle with Bashundhara Kings when Pezzaiuoli turned to Sivasakthi. The youngster was asked to warm up with the game moving towards extra time. “We needed a goal to stay alive in the competition, and that’s when I was sent onto the pitch. I barely had any time, and I think I touched the ball just once. My debut would’ve felt special had we won the game, but we didn’t. But it felt good to know that the coach was turning to me for answers. I told myself that night that the next time I was on the pitch, I would have to make my mark in the short time I get. Because I know these chances won’t keep coming.”

And he did. Introduced just past the hour mark, Sivasakthi took less than ten minutes to put his name on the scoresheet when the Blues took on Maziya S&RC in their final group game. It was an encounter that meant little in the grander scheme of things, but for Sivasakthi, it was a moment he can never forget. “When Udanta [Singh] crossed the ball in from the right, I had made up my mind to get a shot on target. I know the angle was tight, but I simply knew I had to get a shot away. I am not sure if it was heard on the television, but when the ball came into the box, I heard Leon [Augustine] screaming and asking me to smash it in,” he says laughing.

What followed was a touch and finish that had social media abuzz with praise for the youngster. It’s still early days, but Sivasakthi says he has several players to thank for his rapid rise to the top. “Leon is one of many players who have done a lot to make me feel part of the group. He spoke to me a lot of times about how we should take our chances as young players, so it felt good when I saw the ball go into the roof of the net. After the game, every single player came up and congratulated me, and that felt amazing.”

However, Sivasakthi’s smile is widest as he recalls the skipper’s reaction to seeing him following the 6-2 win in Male. “Sunil bhai caught me after the game, gave me a hug and said a few good words. I cannot tell you how special that was, because when I first joined the team, I was so overawed that I would make silly mistakes. I would get my touch wrong or pick the wrong pass/finish because the players around me were of such high stature. I have seen Sunil bhai get irritated because of those mistakes, sometimes, but then he would always come to me after training and tell me to relax. He’s always in the ears of us younger boys trying to help us become better. I don’t know how it is at other clubs, but the way the seniors here treat you and take time to tell you things about your game and how they treat you off the pitch, is fantastic.”

Fresh off the back of a BDFA Super Division League campaign that saw him score 14 goals and claim seven assists, Sivasakthi’s performances didn’t escape the fans’ eyes, who had been clamouring for his promotion to the first team on social media.

“I kept getting all sorts of messages on Instagram, messages of praise, encouragement and support. It sometimes feels unbelievable because I am getting all of this despite being a relatively new player at this club, and I can’t thank the fans enough for every kind word they say. That’s all the motivation I need to give my all every time I put on this shirt and step out onto the pitch.”

The last time Sivasakthi sat down to speak, his aim was to somehow force himself into the first team. He says little has changed. “I made my debut and I scored my first goal. I’m over the moon about that, but there’s still so much more to do. I want to work hard and try to be part of the ISL squad this season, and then I want to make sure I am a part of the matchday squad on a few occasions. Making my League debut or getting a goal in the ISL would be the icing on the cake for me this season.”

While his debut and Asian exploits have made it to the Blues’ season transcript, Sivasakthi says he has a long way to go before he can be satisfied. “To be honest, there’s so much to do before I can call myself a first-team player at BFC. Many youngsters have made their debuts at other clubs, scored their first goal, and then found it hard to keep their place. I do not want to be another player who goes down that route. I want to make my mark at this club, and making my debut and scoring my first goal is only the first step.”

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