The son of an apple farmer from a hamlet near Shimla, FC Pune City’s Vishal Kaith, is making amends on the big level.
After a 100-kilometre drive from the picturesque landscapes of Shimla, the exuberantly red apple farms in the small village of Rohru are too hard to miss. In the hamlet, small fields are carved out around from the red vegetation around the river banks for recreation. That is where FC Pune City goalkeeper Vishal Kaith honed his football expertise as a kid.
With three clean sheets in five games, the 21-year-old is making rapid strides in the Indian Super League compared to the previous edition where he could not get a chance to showcase his potential. In the last season of the I-league he was playing for Shillong Lajong FC as a loan player. The sturdy guardian earned praise for his performances that allowed him to rise to first team action for the orange and purple brigade.
He was not close to the playing eleven last season with zero appearances but under the new coach Ranko Popovich, Vishal got a chance to prove his mettle. However, he faces a challenge from the rest of the young keepers from the squad who are keen to make their presence felt. The Himachal lad is aware of this challenge. “All of the 11 positions in football have equal competition. I am dedicated to performing whenever I get a chance. Both the keepers in our team are equally good and I am glad that the coach chose me for the five games that I played,” says the six feet two keeper.
As a kid, Vishal was never too engrossed in academics and luckily for the keeper, his father sent him to a sports hostel. The idea of having these hostels is to focus more on developing the skills of the budding athletes with enough importance to education. “My father saw that I was interested in playing football all the time. He asked me if I wanted to go the hostel, which was an hour away from my home, and I was excited to pack my bags for that experience,” recalls Kaith.
“I loved to watch (Iker) Casillas play for Real Madrid, that’s when I realised that I will become a goalkeeper. Also because of my height, the coach in our hostel advised me to play as a keeper,” he adds.
Soon, he was a big prospect in Himachal for his display at the goal. His first experience at the professional level came at the Under-16 BC Roy Trophy, which he remembers for his fine feat guarding the net. “I was selected for India Under-16 and that’s why I understood that I can make it big,” he says.
He was picked by the All India Football Federation to play for the U-16 and U-19 national sides before he made it to the AIFF Elite Academy in 2013. He was making a name for himself that earned him a move to Shillong Lajong FC.
Vishal has been a feature of the FCPC team in their last five games out of seven. Other keepers Debjit Majumdar and Kamaljeet Singh failed to keep clean sheets in the first two games that let Popovich experiment with the squad and get Vishal on the team sheet. He returned the gaffer’s faith in him with a few terrific saves against neighbours Mumbai City FC in a 2-1 victory.
Being called up by India’s senior coach Stephen Constantine for the U-23 squad, Kaith is for his turn to don the blue colour as he faces competition from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Subrata Pal and Amrinder Singh for the goalkeeper spot.