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‘People Complained When I Used to Play With The Boys But Now They Appreciate me’: India Women Footballer Manisha Kalyan

Manisha Kalyan, the latest star in Indian women football, endured criticism for playing with the boys of her village when in school but the naysayers have converted into her admirers after her goal against the mighty Brazil in a recent tournament. Manisha scored India’s lone goal in the 1-6 defeat against former World Cup runners-up Brazil in the four-nation tournament in Manaus, making her country’s latest football star ahead of the women’s AFC Asian Cup in Mumbai and Pune next month.

“I used to play with the boys of my village when I was in school. Once or twice, there were complaints to my parents why I am the only girl playing among the boys,” Manisha said during a virtual interaction, arranged by All India Football Federation (AIFF).

“They said it was not good for a girl to play with boys but my parents always backed me, supported me. So I did not take those complaints seriously,” said the 20-year-old, who hails from Mugowal village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district.

The situation changed after her return from Brazil. “Many villagers came to meet my parents and congratulated them, saying I did the right thing (by opting career in sport).”

A passionate fan of Ronaldinho, Manisha used to watch a lot of videos of the former Ballon d’or winner Brazilian star.

“My friends at my village used to call me ‘dinho’. When I first made my Instagram account, it was named ‘mkd’ meaning Manisha Kalyan Dinho. I also love to watch Messi, his passing accuracy and his finishing.”

Initially, interested in athletics and basketball, Manisha shifted to football on the advice of her school Physical Education Teacher (PET) when she was in class eight. “Before 8th standard I was playing basketball, running 100m and 200m. Our PET teacher was a footballer and he asked me if I want to play in district football team. He took my trial and I got selected. I also felt very good and told the coach that I will play football only. I started football training after school.”

She left her village school as it was was up to eighth standard only and the new school which was 15km from her house had better football facilities. She honed her initial skills there.

“I used to go there by cycle. There were better players, good diet and I learnt a lot,” she said. “After that Kenkre FC’s offer came and I played in IWL for Sethu FC. Then came the call up for national U-17 team to play in BRICS Cup.”

After her stints in the U-18 and U-19 national teams, Manisha made her way to the senior side. She also played for Gokulam Kerala in the first AFC Women’s Club Champions League last month.

Manisha said the goal against Brazil has given her more confidence though she needs improvement in a lot of areas in her game. “Since I joined the national camp in 2019, I have improved on my basics in which I was poor. I have worked on to improve my first touch.

“When I play as winger, initially my first touch used to go out but I learnt how to keep it in. My shooting accuracy was not very good, I worked on that also.” She said the national team has improved a lot in the recent past, especially this year after playing a lot of international matches. She said India can qualify for the knock-out round in the AFC Asian Cup.

“The South Americans were a bit taller but we have improved on our fitness, strength and stamina. Earlier, we used to think that we are physically weak but now we are much better and we are not afraid of any team. We just need to work on some basics. Skill-wise, I feel we are a bit lacking in our basics like first touch, mis-passes etc. But we are not lacking in speed and strength.”

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