Bengaluru: Bengaluru FC Academy striker Sridarth Nongmeikapam has travelled to Slovenia for a training stint-cum-trial with ND Ilirija 1911. Ilirija, the oldest football club in the country, is based in Ljubljana and serves as a feeder club to NK Olimpija Ljubljana one of the nation’s most successful teams. Sridarth who had been training in Bengaluru for the last three weeks, reached the Central European nation on Friday.
During his ten-day stay in Ljubljana, Sridarth will be training with Ilirija’s U15 side which plays in the country’s top division in their youth structure. In fact, the youngster will also have additional training sessions with the club’s coaching staff which will further help his development.
The Pukhao-born Manipuri lad had begun playing football as a youngster and after representing his school at the state level, his impressive performances in the Subroto Cup were followed by a move to the AIFF Elite Academy setup. Two years on, Sridarth has been one of the key members of the squad which secured a place in the final round of the AFC U16 Championships 2020. The youngster banged in five goals as the Blue Tigers finished atop their qualifying group in Uzbekistan. He also scored a stunning hat-trick in the final as India emerged champions in the U15 SAFF Championship in Kalyani, West Bengal earlier this season.
“I started off on the wing in my early years but eventually settled in as a central striker while in the AIFF set up in Goa. Coach Bibiano Fernandes has been a great guiding figure in my career so far and I have learned a lot of things from him in the last two years,” says Sridarth, who has scored fluently against foreign opposition.
Coming from a proper football family, picking up the sport was never really a tough decision for Sridarth. The youngster credits his father with giving him the push to pursue the sport. “My father was a professional footballer and played for some big clubs in India including the likes of Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers, and Dempo SC. He was also a youth international and when he retired, he started a club in Manipur to help young footballers. I don’t exactly remember how and when I started playing but it has always been football for me. He is the one who taught me how to play and has always been an inspiration.”
Football in the family doesn’t stop at Sridarth’s father. His uncle, Nongmeikapam Suresh Meitei, skippered Army Red when they faced the Bengaluru in the Durand Cup back in August, while his brother Nongmeikapam Ronaljit Singh currently plays for United Pukhao Sports Association, a club formed by his father in 2004.
While it’s Sridarth’s first time in the Garden City, the youngster was alongside fellow BFC Academy players Ratanbi Singh Chaphamayum and Anish Mazumder in the national team setup. Defender Anish, in fact, served as a skipper in most games and Sridarth is looking forward to turning out for the Blue Colts along with these familiar faces in the 2019-20 season. “I haven’t really played for any club before. But when Bengaluru FC shows faith in you, it means a lot. It will be a completely new experience to turn out for a club of this stature but I’m also aware of the kind of responsibility it brings along with it. But I really excited to join the club.”
His parents have backed his dream of becoming a professional and after his goal-scoring streak at the continental level, they want him to keep working hard and build on it. “My parents were really happy after I joined BFC. They have followed my progress over the last couple of years and have told me to maintain the scoring streak (laughs)! I know it’s tough, but I have to work hard since this is only the start.”
Sridarth will be part of Naushad Moosa’s BFC B and U18 sides which will take part in the Youth League, 2nd Division League, and the BDFA Competitions this season.