Bengaluru, August 10: It didn't seem unusual to M Nikhil Raj and D Dhanush when their coach Lars 'Lungi' Sorensen called the troop together after an extended training session last Sunday (August 5).
A team huddle was the norm at Kickstart FC but Sorensen had a sparkling smile when he turned towards the two. "Congratulations Nikhil and Dhanush," Sorensen announced. "You will be going for a training stint with the Under-19 squad of Esbjerg fB and I wish you the best of luck."
Amidst the applause from their Kickstart FC teammates, Nikhil and Dhanush were lost for words.
Nikhil, a 17-year-old from Murphy Town, took a plunge when he discontinued studies and dedicated himself for football to support his widow mother.
Dhanush, also 17 and hailing from a family of footballers, has a chance to continue the legacy. Their journey would begin on Saturday (August 11) and they have 15 days to impress the coaches at Esbjerg on a possible move to Europe.
"I lost my father a year ago to what seemed like a normal fever," Nikhil, a winger, says in Tamil. "There are just three of us home - my mother, younger brother and me. My life is football now and I want to use this opportunity to land a contract in a European club and make my mother proud."
The move came about because of Sorensen, a former head coach at Esbjerg. Since joining Kickstart FC as the head coach and technical director, Sorensen has been trying to facilitate an exposure tour for the trainees at the Kickstart FC Academy and the training stint for Nikhil and Dhanush could be the first of many, he says.
"I am in touch with them constantly," Sorensen says. "When I proposed this move to them, they were open to it as they are curious about what's happening in India. Remember, they are not going for a trial. It's not like Esbjerg has invited two each from China, Australia or elsewhere. These are the only two who will get to train with the U-19 squad. If they perform well, they will be retained by the club. If they come back, it will still be a good experience for them. They are just 17 and they still have two years at the U-19 level."
Dhanush, who can play in the defence as well as the midfield, wants to keep going for family, friends and country.
"My father Dakshinamurthy played for a local club called ADE and my elder brother, Vignesh D, is in the India U-23 camp. I realise I have been handed a golden opportunity to strike a good impression in the minds of the Danish clubs officials about Indian football. I will work hard and use this chance to open doors for other players from Bangalore and India in Europe. I would like to see them come to Denmark as my team-mates."
Accompanying them in the journey will be Sorensen and Laxman Bhattarai, COO of Kickstart FC and coach of the Kickstart FC Academy. Bhattarai will check their progress through the 15 days, while Sorensen will return in a week to get back to coaching the senior Kickstart FC team for the Bangalore District Football Association's Super Division.
"We took 25 of our kids to Netherlands for an exposure tour on the invitation of VV SBC in May and each one of them performed well," Bhattarai says.
"In fact, the Dutch club's officials were surprised seeing the quality of Indian football. And there, these two played really well and Lars felt they have the potential to play in bigger leagues. I've asked them to remain focused and 100 per cent committed on the pitch. Not putting pressure on them, but they know that their lives will change if they do well."
Dhanush then came back to add a final statement. "I joined Kickstart about seven months ago, but my career is kickstarting only now," he added, smiling as he returned to training.