That there is something different about Manisha Kalyan is evident from her hairdo; her short spiky hair is an anathema to any normal teenage girl. But it’s not just her hairdo which sets her apart from other youngsters. She dared to think differently and act as per her conviction—in the process, overcoming hurdles few girls would have dared to.
She is the only Indian footballer (among both male and female) to compete in the prestigious Champions League when she made her debut for Cyprus’ Apollon Ladies FC against Rigas FS, in the prestigious UEFA Champions League match on August 18.
Thereby, the 20- year old Punjab girl has ensured her name in the annals of Indian football folklore. What is remarkable about Manisha is that she even scored a goal against World Champions Brazil, that too in the South American country last year. The attacking midfielder has shown the guts and gumption to translate her aspirations into reality.
Manisha Kalyan’s story is a saga of overcoming all odds. To start with, she had to overcome gender bias, which is typical of small towns — she hails from Muggowal village in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab. Such was the situation that Manisha had to practice with boys in order to hone her skills.
“I had to prove myself from a very young age. The road was laced with challenges right from the beginning. Whether it was finding the right sort of partner or training facilities, everything was a big challenge. It was as if the challenges would simply refuse to go away,” said Manisha.
Even after getting the initial clearance from her family members for pursuing football, Manisha’s travails didn’t end. The distance between her home and the nearest training facility was 15 km, which she had to walk daily. “There were some days when I was fortunate enough to get my father’s cycle. But on most days, I had to walk to the training centre and back home (30 km in all) — but all these things didn’t dampen my spirit,” she said.
Manisha started playing at the age of 13. She was discovered by Coach Brahmjit Singh while she was a student at the Government Middle School Muggowal. He was quick to spot her talent and made her go through the paces. It was a Herculean task for Brahmjit to convince Manisha’s parents about her enormous talent.
Manisha began as an attacking midfielder, a position she has managed to stick on to ever since. She made her international debut for India when she was 17and was quick to leave her mark when she scored goals against China. Thereafter, she was included in the Under-19 squad where she quickly made her mark while scoring a hat-trick against Pakistan in the Asian Football Championships (AFC) qualifiers.
The best part about Manisha is that she is never under pressure. “Believe me, when I play international matches, I am not under any sort of pressure. I am hundred per cent focused on doing my best. I just shut out the rest,” she says.
Her crowning glory came when she scored a goal against formidable Brazil in the Manaus international tournament which was played in Brazil. That was a peach of a goal and one can watch that ‘magic moment’ on You Tube. ‘Well, I really love to watch that goal—since I managed to score against my favourite team,” she said.
Ever the realist, Manisha is candid about her future: “I want to concentrate on giving my best for India. I am ready to undergo any sacrifice or hard work for achieving this.”