Poojary: Excited to play under Albert Roca and learn whatever I can

One of the most versatile full-backs in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), Nikhil Poojary was previously a part of erstwhile FC Pune City before appearing in every match for Hyderabad FC in their debut campaign in the league. After an underwhelming season last time around, the club received a boost with the arrival of Albert Roca as their head coach for Hero ISL 2020-21. While discussing what life under Roca will be like, Poojary spoke about the importance of meeting the Spaniard’s expectations.

“We all know the impact Albert Roca had on Bengaluru. The way the team played that season (2017-18) was surreal. They finished way above everyone else and then we know his pedigree. He was with (Frank) Rijkaard at Barcelona. He has trained a lot of top players. I think we will have to meet his expectations to do well as players because if he needs to have the same impact he had in Bengaluru, we have to meet his expectations. I am excited to play under him and learn whatever I can,” the 24-year-old defender said on the latest episode of Let’s Football Live, hosted by Anant Tyagi.

After making nine appearances for Pune City during the 2018-19 season, Poojary was among the few Indian players who were a part of Hyderabad FC ahead of the sixth edition of the Hero ISL. Prior to moving to Hyderabad, Poojary knew the task at hand and hopes to see more players from the city play for their local club in the future.

“The fans had a lot of expectations from before the season itself. We knew about the footballing history of the city and it was up to us to revive that city, because it is a beautiful city and it has produced a lot of players as well. So now it’s on us to play well and do well in every aspect: from the grassroots to the first team. Hopefully, we can see more players from Hyderabad in Hyderabad FC in the coming years,” he said.

Poojary then hailed the influence that Matthew Kilgallon had on the team last season and explained the impact that the foreigners had on Hyderabad. “(Matthew) Kilgallon has played almost 500 games in his country before coming to India, and he was really good for us as well. It was very good for everyone in the team to play alongside the likes of Marcelinho (Marcelo Pereira). His record speaks for itself. He is the same during the practices as well as on the pitch. I used to interact a lot with Rafa (Rafael) Lopez and especially Kilgallon because I used to play on the left and he (Kilgallon) was the left centre-back,” the 24-year-old shared.

When asked about the difference between a Hero ISL dressing room and a national team dressing room, Poojary pointed at the presence of Blue Tigers’ skipper Sunil Chhetri and shared an anecdote about his first interaction with the Indian football legend. “The first day I met him, we played the tri-nation game away against Macau. First time he met me, he congratulated me for my debut and then I was about to have biscuit with my tea, and he forbade me from doing so. That was my first conversation with him, and I stopped eating biscuits after that,” he revealed.

The Hyderabad full-back also spoke highly of another Indian teammate, Rahul Bheke, who has known Poojary from his days in the Hero I-League with East Bengal. “I keep in touch with him (Rahul Bheke) daily. He is like a brother to me. At East Bengal, he was my room partner and he helped me a lot. When I was injured and I was only 20 and not playing, I didn’t think I will play for East Bengal anytime soon. He was the one who asked me to stay for another year and eventually that season was my breakthrough year. Credit goes to him for convincing me to stay for another year. Even in the national team, it’s easy to talk to him about anything especially because he is my room partner,” he said.

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