Nishu Kumar - Two knee injuries, bouts of self-doubt and a raging comeback

Kerala Blasters defender Nishu Kumar opens up on his struggle with long-term injuries, his early life in Muzaffarnagar, his friendship with Harmanjot Khabra and more.

Kerala Blasters defender Nishu Kumar undergoing pre-match training.   -  ISL

Nishu Kumar made his first start for Kerala Blasters in nearly 10 months in Wednesday’s Indian Super League (ISL 2021-22) clash against Odisha FC. It was a night to remember for Nishu as the left-back scored a lovely goal - his first since joining Kerala Blasters in September 2020.

While Nishu’s exquisite ball control and bullet-like precision saw him bust the net on Wednesday, he was struggling to even play a pass three months ago. He had a lengthy lay-off due to knee injuries, which kept him far away from the pitch. He fondly recalls his first training session in October - after eight long months.

“I remember it was in Kochi and I was coming back after nearly eight months. I went on the ground and touched the ball - it was one of the best moments of my life. You won't believe it, I was juggling the ball and after 5-6 juggles, I could not do anymore! I was thinking yeh kya hogya? Ho nahi raha hai! (what's happening?) I told myself ‘Nishu, bohot kharaab ho gaya abhi and that I have to work hard now. I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t as good as I was. Even Khabra (Harmanjot) paaji was pulling my leg saying 'tumhara kya hogya yeh? (what has happened to you?) Zero quality!’”

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Nishu admits he had bouts of self-doubt when he was preparing to make a comeback. “I doubted myself at times and wondered if I would be able to make the comeback. I thought jaise maine chhoda tha waise hoga? (will things be the way they were before I was injured?) In that phase - you will doubt yourself. Will I be able to do it?” 

It had been a testing few months for the 24-year-old. He was diagnosed with bone oedema - a condition where fluid floods the bone marrow. He was confined to the bed for close to four months.

Nishu Kumar marked his first start of the season with a goal against Odisha FC. - ISL

 

“I felt something in my knees at the start of last season itself, but I wanted to play. It was in my left knee first but I forced myself to play and took painkillers because I just wanted to play. I did not want to sit outside. The injury got worse and I could not even walk properly or climb the stairs after nine games. I forced myself a lot to play at that time but I regret it now… maybe if I had rested for 2-3 weeks then I would've played more games last year. 

“After the left knee, it came to my right knee also and it was in a critical condition. The doctors said I would be fine in 2-3 months, but it took much longer and it took almost four months for my left knee to recover and when it came to my right knee, that took another 2-3 months. I had to be on complete bed rest and put no stress on my knee, else it wouldn’t heal. It was a very bad phase for me.” 

He adds, “It was very difficult, especially because I felt I am not that mentally strong. Even at home, I did not talk much, I wasn't feeling good. You’re always on the bed, cannot play or walk or run.. mentally bohot hi down chala jata hai and kuch acha nahi lagta hai (felt mentally low and nothing felt good). I turned to my seniors in Rahul (Bheke) bhai, Khabra paaji and Gurpreet (Singh) paaji - they motivated me.”

- Of moving away from home, pursuing a dream and job offers -

Nishu also had a lot of support from his family and friends back home in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Coming from a region that’s not particularly known for its footballing talent, his meteoric rise in Indian football has inspired many youngsters to take up the sport. There was a time when people around him chided him for pursuing football as a career, but today they look up to him.

Nishu’s first step towards becoming a professional footballer dates back to an evening in 2009 when he was 11-years-old and fought with his father to join the Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA).

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“My parents, especially my dad, supported me a lot. My dad would take time away from work and come for all my district and state games. I was preparing to join the Lucknow Sports College but then one of my seniors told me that CFA was a better option. My father was keen on me going to Lucknow. We fought that night and I said I want to go to CFA, he tried to convince me but eventually said jaisa tumhara marzi hai (as you wish). And then I went to CFA for trials in 2009…I feel that was the best decision I have made,” he says.

His career took off thereon and he went on to play for the country’s various age-group teams. But then came another confusing phase - one that involved multiple job offers.

“I got some government job offers when I was playing in the U-19s. All of my father's friends, our neighbours and even my friends said I should take up a job. Where I come from, if you have a job then you’re successful. So my dad tried to convince me to take up a job. I felt so much pressure at that time that sometimes even I felt maybe I should start working since I had a few offers. But I said no because at that time I knew I could make a career out of football. Now everyone has changed, they’re like you’re doing great and they want me to help out their children in football. Now everyone feels you can have a career in football.”

Nishu embraces coach Ivan Vukomanovic after scoring his first goal for Kerala Blasters. - ISL

 

- Khabra paaji and apna time ayega -

Nishu has a familiar face in Khabra in the Kerala Blasters set-up. The two had a great partnership when they played together at Bengaluru FC and won every title there was to win in Indian football. Thick as thieves, Nishu enjoys the banter with his senior pro.

“We have very good bonding, but we usually fight a lot. We fight every day! Even in BFC and here too. We always fight and argue all the time. He'll be like you were wrong here, this move was wrong, you did not train well and then I’ll say no I was right, you are wrong and we go on. Even last night he was in my room and we were discussing games. Kab 1-2 ghanta ho jata hai pata hi nahi chalta hai (Time flies when we start talking/arguing).

Nishu made a slow start to the season and was on the bench for the first 10 games. “You feel bad when you’re among the subs, but I was not fully ready at the starting of the season. Fitness-wise, I was not that strong. I just came back from recovery and was not ready for a game at that time. It is difficult for the coach also since everyone is doing well in the team and it is not easy for me to get back again but I am fighting. My time will come. Apna time ayega.

And when the chance came, Nishu grabbed onto it with both hands (and feet!) to help Kerala Blasters extend its unbeaten run to 10 games and take the side back to the top of the ISL table. Ivan Vukomanovic's men will next take on defending champion Mumbai City FC on Sunday. 

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