The young forward has been earning rave reviews for his goalscoring exploits from the youth level tournaments for the past couple of decades.

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

With the arrival of both of these clubs, plenty of footballers in the state got an opportunity 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 whole lot of academies opened, involvement from the youth leagues and baby leagues saw a rise, particularly in Chennai. 1 such academy was the Raman Vijayan Soccer School (RVSS), founded by former India striker Raman Vijayan, four decades back.

RVSS might just have discovered the next big thing in the country in N Sivasakthi – an 18-year-old who’s been earning rave reviews for his performances at the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) Elite League, Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) and other childhood level tournaments.

Sivasakthi, who hails from a humble background in Karaikudi (Southern Tamil Nadu), is a part of RVSS’ policy of giving full scholarships to promising children that aren’t well off financially. He’s been in the academy from the beginning and is the crown jewel in their U18 group for the past 3 decades.

Sivasakthi’s goalscoring exploits for RVSS have seen him take in the limelight and his numbers have been getting better each year. In the 2017-18 year in the Elite League, he scored 10 goals in 12 games before scoring 22 goals from 12 matches at the 2018-19 season, a feat that saw him win the golden boot. At the ongoing season, his tally stands at 17 goals before the season was curtailed as a result of coronavirus outbreak. In actuality, he had been leading the goalscoring charts this year also.

He’s been averaging well over a goal per match – amounts that are clearly impressive. And he’s been replicating the accomplishment in school-level and college-level tournaments also. He represented JJ Government Boys Higher Secondary School as part of a partnership with RVSS who organize for their wards’ education at school and faculty level. Sivasakthi has finished his schooling and is now in his first year at Christ College of Arts and Science.

“He’s been our principal player not only in the Elite League, but he’s been playing well in different tournaments also enjoy the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports and the federal school and collegiate tournaments. In the toughest tournaments, if we play with 6-7 games, he would have scored 8-10 goals and will feature in the top scorers’ list,” said Raja Rajan, the head coach at RVSS, who’s incidentally the elder brother of former Chennai City FC midfielder Srinivasan Pandiyan.

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

Raja Rajan believes Sivasakthi’s most impressive part is his humbleness and discipline on and off the pitch. “He always scores. But more importantly, he is a good, humble, and dedicated participant. He’s very disciplined. His ability hasn’t got into his mind. His character and mindset are very much down-to-earth and it’s challenging to find players like him who don’t let their match reach their minds,” he said.

Though he’s not an imposing figure, Sivasakthi’s style of play is appropriate to his prestige. He’s a brilliant dribbler, has excellent close control, agility and a deadly change of pace. He’s not only a goalscorer and has an eye for the killer pass also and frequently creates opportunities for his teammates. He’s not a normal number nine and can play all over the front three and even as an attacking midfielder throughout the centre.

He has to develop his muscular strength and placement needed to be a top striker. However, Sivasakthi has what it takes to match up to larger defenders, feels his trainer.

“Though he doesn’t have the physique, he holds his own against bigger defenders. That’s because he’s been playing physically stronger defenders for quite a while now and has been scoring goals. So I do not think it will be an issue. For his playing style, his body won’t be a massive problem,” said Raja Rajan.

Sivasakthi’s capacity to lead a comparatively weaker team along with his winning mentality was lauded by his trainer, together with his ability to conjure up minutes of magic.

“Our team was heavily reliant on him. This past year, we had a very average team. We would always concede to score. Sivasakthi would bond us out with overdue and crucial goals even if we concede. He’s that winning mentality.

“He’d score a good deal of surprising goals. He’d dribble past 4-5 players abruptly and conjure a goal from nothing or score from a scarcely believable angle. Last year against Chennaiyin FC in the Elite League, he dribbled past four players from the midfield and put a wonderful finish into the web. Against Tata Football Academy, he scored nearly a zero angle target after dribbling past two players on the touchline. In the RFYS tournament, he scored a couple of incredible goals.”

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

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