Nili Perdomo's rise from the streets

Nili Perdomo's rise from the streets

The Eye of Providence, sits atop the neck of Nili Perdomo, crowing the tattoos that run right through his arms. The all-seeing eye looking down on the story, his story, inked across his torso.

It's a fascinating conversation with the Bengaluru FC star as he traces his life's ebbs and flows with great animation and a wide smile. His broken English is no barrier as he talks about his love for Buddha, playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world and under big-ticket managers. He even did his research about Sunil Chhetri before landing in India - the man with more international goals than Lionel Messi.

"I know all about him," he says. "The entire India is looking at Sunil. Messi, all the world is looking at him. I played with Sunil and Messi, it's crazy!"

It's been a little over two weeks since the Spaniard made his way down to India and already, he's played a hand in four games, scored a goal, assisted four more and travelled to a country that holds big significance to him. 

"I never thought I'd go to Bhutan," he says. "You think maybe Thailand, but Bhutan, the city of Buddha, never. I like Buddha, the religion. It's (about) respect. It’s like my life, it was not easy before (for) many years, but now...." 

He trails off with his arms wide and a big smile, showing his two Buddha tattoos.

Nili was born in Las Palmas, the fifth largest island among the eight that form the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago. Stuck away from mainland Spain, it was hard toil in his early years.

"My life was not easy. My father and mother fought all the time and when I was seven I left with my mother. She had problems with alcohol and drugs. She used to hit me and I lived on the street," he says matter-of-factly, recalling his days of stealing food through the kitchen windows to eat and playing football on the streets. 

It was not until his grandfather, illustrated as Zeus - the king of gods in Greek mythology - on his arm, took him and put him in a football club that his life changed. 

"My grandfather is the most important person in my life. When I was 10, he took me in. I was playing on the street. Since then, everything I play for is for my family. Now my life is good, I have a daughter and a family...," he says. 

He has a coliseum on his arm, for his sister who worked there. A tattoo each for his niece, mother and sister. A lion for the memories, lest he forgets. An elephant, so everyone else remembers.

Nili would rise through the ranks of Las Palmas youth set up, play his part in getting his home team promoted to the La Liga and then make his La Liga bow too under Quique Setien. He would do it all while still in his teens. His number 29, also his daughter's birthday, inked in his hands.

At 20, Barcelona would come calling. For a boy from a tiny island, this was a big step. An opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Neymar, Luis Suarez and the magical Messi. He remembers the chats with coach Luis Enrique, visiting Neymar and Messi's house. But one particular memory trumps them all. 

"My grandfather came, for the first time, from the Canary Islands to see me training. I asked Messi if he would take a photo with my grandfather and they spoke, he gave his t-shirt and some gifts. My grandfather is everything in my life and this was a big moment for me," he says.

But alas, for Nili, still young and inexperienced, it was too big a jump. 

Players have often spoken of the pressure that comes with wearing the famed crest of Barcelona. Victor Valdes, one of the greatest ever, once mentioned the fortitude needed to guard a goalpost that felt bigger than the 8 feet (height) it's supposed to be. Andre Gomes, who played alongside Nili, spoke about the emotional pressure at a club, the biggest symbol of Catalonia, who calls itself 'more than a club'. 

For Nili too, anxiety became a reality.

"When I played in Las Palmas I was 17 and I played because I liked football. When I went to Barcelona, you play because you like to play football and you want to win everything. It's different. For Las Palmas the best is to stay in the first division. The pressure in Barcelona is different because you need to win every game and every title. If you don't play then someone else comes. It's a mindset change. For me, it was a big jump," says the Spaniard.

"But I look back and see that as a time I learned a lot and is now a completely different person with a lot of positivity," he adds. 

He would spend most of his time there with the B team before moving to Albacete, where he would meet best friend and fellow Canary Islander Aridane Santana - the Odisha FC striker - who played his part in Nili's move to Bengaluru following a stint in Platanias FC in Greece. These clubs, while big in their own right, do not have the pressure of winning titles. And for Nili, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Now, at 25, the Spaniard is ready. To take on the pressure and rise to the challenge of playing -- not just because he likes it but to achieve. At BFC, that's what he is looking for. It's his time to rise again.

Like the Pegasus stowed in amidst all his body art -- the mythical winged horse, the offspring of Olympian Poseidon. This one he got for himself... The one that flew!

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