For Manisha Kalyan, it was sticking to the basics, her versatility and keeping the sky as her limit that made her an important part of the perfect season enjoyed by the Gokulam Kerala Women’s team in the 2021-22 edition of the Indian Women’s League (IWL).
The Covid-19 pandemic proved to be a major disruption across multiple sectors in the world and sports wasn’t an exception. Clubs went through a slump, players suffered a dip in form and several managers lost the plot.
However, for the 20-year-old Manisha, she picked up right where she left off after winning the Emerging Player of the Year Award in the 2019-20 edition of the IWL, with the league being suspended in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.
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“Winning the Emerging Player of the Yeard award was a highlight of my career but I kept practising diligently even when football stopped. Before the start of the season, I knew I couldn’t rest on my laurels. I took one game at a time and tried to play better with each passing game,” Kalyan told Sportstar in an exclusive chat.
Manisha scored 14 goals in 11 appearances for Gokulam last season – an impressive average of 1.27 goals per game. Along with her goalscoring prowess, Kalyan assisted seven of the 66 goals Goklum scored in IWL 2022. Manisha idolises Lionel Messi and like her idol, she tries to incorporate a holistic approach.
Kalyan, by her own admission, does not like to stay static in her position on the pitch. From breaking the opposition’s defence to tracking back when necessary to help in defence, she does it all.
Manisha Kalyan became the first Indian woman to score in a top-flight Asian competition in the 2021 AFC Women’s Club Championship. – Gokulam Kerala FC
“It is difficult to maintain a fixed style of gameplay, to be honest. Every match is different. For example, if I am primarily operating from the right, I like to cut in and tend to push towards the centre. I make a mental frame of the situation in front of me – where the goal is, where the defenders are, where I can find openings. This helps me to play better.
“At times, opponents drop very deep. During such instances, scoring became difficult. Then, I had to adjust my position and style of play and push further up to penetrate the backline,” said Kalyan.
Being a mentality monster
The numbers indicate the stellar season Gokulam had in IWL 2022 – 11 wins out of 11, 66 goals scored and just four conceded. Despite that, the league went down to the wire and Gokulam had to beat Sethu FC on the final day to clinch the title.
According to Kalyan, the stiff competition did more good than harm. A one-horse race might have paved the way for complacency to creep in, but Anthony Andrews and his team knew that the margin for error was scarily low.
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For other teams, Gokulam was the yardstick of excellence and getting a result against such a well-oiled unit was priority number one.
“Being the strongest team, every other team had their eye on us. There would be an extra motivation to defeat us when we played against other teams.
“While preparing and training for the matches, we would be focused on the target in front of us and keep the mentality that every other team is out to get us. Through hard and perseverance, we did not lose our focus but at times, it did get difficult thinking about what our opponent had in their mind, and what strategy they are devising.”
Manisha, in her young career, has already enjoyed her fair share of achievements. Apart from winning the Emerging Player of the Year award, she became the first Indian woman to score in a top-flight Asian competition when she scored a goal in the 2021 AFC Women’s Club Championship match against FC Bunyodkor women’s team on November 14, 2021.
She also won the Most Valuable Player award for her performance in that match.
However, it is not the awards but a single goal that she regards as the best moment in her young career. Against Brazil in a four-nation tournament, she scored a stunner to make it 1-1 for India. India ultimately lost 6-1 but not before Kalyan etched her name in history by becoming the first Indian to score against Brazil.
Manisha Kalyan in action against Brazil where she became the first Indian footballer to score against the Selecaos. – Gokulam Kerala FC
“Wo goal jab bhi yaad aata hein toh accha lagta hein (Even now, when I remember that goal, it feels nice). Just playing against a team like Brazil is a huge honour and to think that I scored a goal, feels great,” said Kalyan with a beaming smile.
Despite all the achievements, Kalyan said this is just the start. Amidst the accolades and the awards, the footballer makes sure that the hunger to better her game does not get lost.
“The AFC Women’s Club Championship is coming up and I would love to play if I get the opportunity. But for now, I just want to relax at home after a tiring season,” she said before signing off.