AIFF Media Team
It was less than two years ago that a nifty 20-year-old amazed the world as she sped away from her marker in Manaus, to score against hosts Brazil, sending the fans of Indian Football into fantasy land. Manisha Kalyan, over the last few years, has not only become one of the key players for the Indian Women’s Team, but she has also gone on to make a name for herself in Europe.
Manisha has many firsts to her name – she is the first Indian to net a goal against mighty Brazil; she is the first Indian to score in the UEFA Women’s Champions League for Apollon Ladies FC against WFC Samegrelo of Georgia this week, thus raising the bar for women’s football in India.
"Going to Apollon Ladies FC in Cyprus from my small village in Hoshiarpur carries deep significance for my career. I am often the first to reach the field for training and the last to leave. It’s an ample testimony to my hard work and it brought results. I earned through unwavering hard work, dedication, and determination.
Yet, I am not satisfied, and I am not going to rest. It’s still a long way to go," said Manisha to www.the-aiff.com from Cyprus.
To be picked up by a club like Apollon Ladies is an achievement by itself, that too for an Indian girl. They are a leading club in Cyprus, having won nine consecutive doubles. They made headlines after beating two-time European champion Umea IK in their second appearance in the Champions League.
Manisha Kalyan's journey in football began at a young age. Growing up in Haryana, a state known for producing some of India's finest athletes, she was introduced to the sport through her local community and school. Her passion for football quickly became evident, and she started showcasing her talent on the field.
"As I said, I’ve made significant sacrifices, and I understand that my focus here is essential to not letting those sacrifices go to waste. Overcoming financial instability and family issues, especially after my father was involved in an accident, has been a rather difficult journey.
"These sacrifices serve as a driving force, strengthening my resolve and preparing my mind to confront any obstacle," she said.
On being asked about how she maintained balance in Cyprus, Manisha said, "Living in Cyprus, I often experienced moments of homesickness. Our culture values close family bonds and being far from home has its own challenges. Maintaining both mental and physical fitness is crucial to my journey. Physical fitness propels you forward, but without mental fitness, your performance remains incomplete," Manisha said.
"Even when facing moments of self-doubt, I remind myself of the immense effort I've invested to reach this level, pushing myself every day. I know that my future holds even more sources of motivation. My experiences in Europe, both as a footballer and as an individual, have imparted more mental strength than physical battles ever could," she further said.
After participating in two friendlies in Chennai against Nepal in February in India, this year she will be seen in Indian colours in the upcoming Asian Games and Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 2.
"The anticipation of participating in the Asian Games and Olympic Qualifiers Round 2, fills me with excitement. Reuniting with my national team friends and coaches will be a special moment. Playing for my country gives me immense pride; there's a unique feeling when I don the National jersey that nothing else can match," said Manisha.
"The Asian Games represent a significant opportunity for women’s football in India, with Chinese Taipei and Thailand standing as formidable teams with good rankings. The prospect of competing against such strong opponents is truly exhilarating, keeping me focussed and motivated," the forward said.
The AIFF Player of the Year 2023, is overwhelmed with all the messages she has been receiving and said, "Seeing people's happiness when they watch me play, along with the motivating comments on social media platforms, fuels my determination.
"My next goal is to see my country compete in the FIFA World Cup, and I'm committed to contributing through even harder work, seizing better opportunities, and delivering stellar performances with my club", concluded Manisha.