Komal Thatal, the young Indian forward with a blonde hairdo, caught the eyes against USA in the U-17 World Cup on Friday, with his driving runs down the flanks and impressive dribbling skills.
The 17-year-old, who hails from Bhaichung Bhutia's state Sikkim, is now seen as the biggest footballing talent to have come out of the country's academy in recent years; so much so that big European clubs, such as Manchester United, are watching him closely.
Both of Komal’s parents are tailors. But they made sure that even with their low income, they gave their son the mental and financial support he needed to pursue his passion. However, there were days when Komal didn’t have an actual football, and used to put together makeshift balls with old clothes or plastic in order to play everyday.
Komal started playing football at the Namchi sports academy in Sikkim back in 2011. After three years, the academy head coach asked the 14-year-old to attend a trial conducted by the AIFF in Goa. He impressed the selectors, got into the Indian team and has been with the national set up ever since.
Position and records
Komal is a forward who mainly operates on the left wing, though he can also play on the right wing or through the centre. The youngster is the reigning top-scorer in the current U-17 team, with eight goals from 31 matches.
The most iconic moment in Komal's budding international career came during a BRICS Cup match in Goa last year, when he came up with a brilliant solo effort to become the first Indian to score against the mighty Brazil at any age level. Komal has also netted against Italy in the U-17 level.
Komal was India's best attacking player in their match against USA on Friday. With his quick feet and mazing runs, he managed to create quite a few openings for India in the game. However, he was once guilty of wasting a chance in the second half, when his lob over the opposing keeper was off target.
Though India lost the match 3-0, the performances of Komal and goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem certainly gave the Indian fans something to cheer for. Some supporters and fan groups have started referring to him as the 'Indian Neymar' now.
Man United links
Multiple reports claim that Komal's impressive shows in the last year have caught the attention of Premier League giants and 20-time champions Manchester United among other European clubs. Rumour has it that the English outfit has appointed scouts to keep an eye on the forward during the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Komal has previously admitted that his idol is Brazil and Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho. Among Indian internationals, midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh is the youngster's personal favourite.
Spanish heavyweights Barcelona is his favourite club, while among ISL clubs, Komal roots for Northeast United. The teenager is also a fan of Bollywood stars Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, and also loves to eat momos.