Meet N Sivasakthi - The young sensation set to be the next big thing from Tamil Nadu?

The last few years have seen football make massive strides in the state of Tamil Nadu. Chennaiyin FC came into being after the Indian Super League (ISL) was founded in 2014. So did Chennai City FC who shot into prominence after entering the I-League in the 2016-17 season.

With the advent of these two clubs, a lot of footballers from the state got a chance to showcase their talent with the likes of Edwin Vanspaul, Michael Soosairaj, Dhanpal Ganesh, Nandhakumar Sekar and Michael Regin all getting their share of the limelight.

Then there was Sethu FC who won the Indian Women's League in 2019. The Tamil Nadu state junior girls team also won the national title. A lot of academies opened up, participation in the youth leagues and baby leagues saw an increase, especially in Chennai. One such academy was the Raman Vijayan Soccer School (RVSS), founded by former India striker Raman Vijayan, four years back.

RVSS might just have unearthed the next big thing from the state in N Sivasakthi - an 18-year-old who has been earning rave reviews for his performances in the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) Elite League, Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) and other youth level tournaments.

Sivasakthi, who hails from a humble background in Karaikudi (Southern Tamil Nadu), is a beneficiary of RVSS' policy of giving full scholarships to promising kids who are not well off financially. He has been at the academy from the start and is the crown jewel in their U18 team for the last three years.

Sivasakthi's goalscoring exploits for RVSS have seen him shoot into the limelight and his numbers have been getting better every year. In the 2017-18 season in the Elite League, he scored 10 goals in 12 games before scoring 22 goals from 12 matches in the 2018-19 season. In the ongoing season, his tally stands at 17 goals before the season was curtailed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

He has been averaging well over a goal per game - numbers that are clearly impressive. And he has been replicating the feat in school-level and college-level tournaments as well. He represented JJ Government Boys Higher Secondary School as part of a partnership with RVSS who arrange for their wards' education at school and college level. Sivasakthi has completed his schooling and is currently in his first year at Christ College of Arts and Science.

"He has been our main player not just in the Elite League but he has been playing well in other tournaments also like the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports and the national school and collegiate tournaments. Even in the toughest tournaments, if we play 6-7 games, he would’ve scored 8-10 goals and will feature in the topscorers’ list," said Raja Rajan, the head coach at RVSS, who is incidentally the elder brother of former Chennai City FC midfielder Sinivasan Pandiyan.

He was the golden boot winner in the RFYS football tournament in the senior boys category with nine goals during the 2018-19 season. Significantly, RVSS crashed out in the group stages but that was enough for the 18-year-old to top the scoring charts.

N Sivasakthi

Raja Rajan feels Sivasakthi's most impressive aspect is his humbleness and discipline on and off the pitch. "He always scores. But more importantly, he’s a good, humble, and dedicated player. He is very disciplined. His ability has not got into his head. His character and attitude is very much down-to-earth and it is tough to see players like him who do not let their game get to their heads," he said.

Though he is not an imposing figure physically, Sivasakthi's style of play is suited to his stature. He is a brilliant dribbler, has excellent close control, agility and a lethal change of pace. He is not just a goalscorer and has an eye for the killer pass as well and often creates chances for his teammates. He is not a typical number nine and can play all across the front three and even as an attacking midfielder through the centre.

He still has to develop his muscle strength and positioning required to be a top striker. But Sivasakthi has what it takes to match up to bigger defenders, feels his coach.

"Though he does not have physique, he holds his own against bigger defenders. That is because he has been playing against physically stronger defenders for a long time now and has been scoring goals against them. So I don't think it is going to be an issue. For his playing style, his physique will not be a huge problem," said Raja Rajan.

Sivasakthi's ability to lead a relatively weaker team and his winning mentality has been lauded by his coach, along with his ability to conjure up moments of magic.

"Our team was heavily dependent on him. Last year, we had a very average team. We would always concede despite scoring. Sivasakthi would always bail us out with late and crucial goals even when we concede. He has that winning mentality.

"He would score a lot of surprising goals. He would dribble past 4-5 players suddenly and conjure a goal out of nothing or score one from a scarcely believable angle. Last year against Chennaiyin FC in the Elite League, he dribbled past four players from the midfield and placed a nice finish into the net. Against Tata Football Academy, he scored almost a zero angle goal after dribbling past two players on the touchline. Even in the RFYS tournament, he scored a couple of unbelievable goals."

Such has been his brilliance in the age category tournaments that several I-League and ISL teams have already registered their strong interest in him. Clearly, if Sivasakthi continues to improve at this rate and keep his head down and work hard in what are a crucial few years ahead, we could very well have a serious talent on our hands.

Given the dearth of natural goalscorers among Indian players, there needs to be more encouragement given to players like Sivasakthi who have an impressive goalscoring record in junior tournaments.