Naorem looks to shine in his zone

Naorem looks to shine in his zone
For Nongdamba Naorem, it’s a case of being ‘at the right place at the right time’. From a striker what else can one expect? However, it is not just to the football field that he restricts this trait to. The 17-year-old seems to live his life by this motto.

“I think that’s why they asked me to play as a striker,” the Manipur boy jokes when quizzed about his journey so far. “I have been lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Be it at school, or the Subroto Cup or even my switch to the Minerva Academy. I took my chance and that has worked out,” adds Naorem, who will don India colours in the FIFA U-17 World Cup starting on Friday.

Growing up in a family of seven, Naorem has three sisters and his grandmother lives with them, sports was never a priority for Naorem. And with his father being a central government employee and his mother an anganwadi worker, it was no surprise that Naorem would be asked to put academics ahead of sports. “They never thought that I could make a career out of football,” he admits.

“But I loved playing football. Back home, I was even fine with being the goalkeeper because I just wanted to play. But then I love playing with the ball and I tend to run a lot with the ball. Seeing that my school coach asked me to give up goalkeeping,” says the Sanik school student.

Being a part of the school team, Naorem would play a handful of tournaments, mostly against other school teams. Though those games helped him understand the game better and improve as a footballer, it wasn’t until 2014 that the Manipuri made an impact on the national stage.

Playing the Subroto Cup, Naorem led his team to a semifinal before losing to the eventual winners, Greenwood School of Nagaland. His performance there made a handful of talent scouts take notice of him and the DSK Shivajians Academy called the young talent for trials. “Initially I didn’t know what did he (scout) meant,” he said recalling that conversation.

“But then I spoke to my dad and he inquired with his friends in Pune and I went for the trials. It went well and I was taken into the academy.”

However, Naorem didn’t stay at the DSK academy for long and soon switched to the Minerva Punjab Academy in Chandigarh in search of more playing time. “I was never the first choice for the coaches at DSK. I would barely get any playing time. It was then that Minvera happened and I joined the academy,” he explained.

As it turned out, things would once again fall in place for Naorem. He joined Minerva in 2016 and went on to win the I-League U-16 title with them. And when India fired the then U-17 coach Nicolai Adam early this year, his replacement Luis Norton de Matos called for a match between Minerva and the national team. A shock 1-0 win for Minerva saw de Matos select six players, including Naorem, to the national squad.

Naorem has improved in his role as a striker with the national team. It was his goal that helped India hold Chile to a draw in the Naciones Cup. “That should be one of the biggest moments of my career so far. How many people can brag about scoring against Chile? Well, Komal (Thatal) scored against Brazil, but apart from him?” he says, looking forward to a good showing in the World Cup.

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