When 11-year-old Chandan Nayak landed at Germany's iconic football club Bayern Munich for a training camp last week, he had completed a long journey from his one-room home in a slum in Odisha's capital, Bhubaneswar. Nayak had overcome several odds before he was shortlisted to attend the Bayerne Munich camp.
"A normal kid learns a new skill in three days, but he would learn three skills in a single day and just by watching," Nayak's coach Jayadev Mahapatra told HuffPost India. "He had an inborn talent. If you tell him to play continuously for 24 hours, he will happily do so."
Born in the Sabar Sahi slum in Bhubaneswar, Nayak was raised by his mother, a single parent who works as a domestic help. He was introduced to football by sheer accident when a football coach from Mahapatra's Ardor Football Academy spotted Nayak at the Bhubaneswar's Kalinga stadium situated opposite his home."I used to sit at the stadium, and one day a coach asked me to play in their football team as one of their players was absent," Nayak told ANI. "Since then, I have been playing with them."
The 11-year-old studies in a government school, but his coach says it is football, rather than studies, which really drives him. A Lionel Messi fan, he can often be spotted wearing the Argentinean footballer's jersey during practice sessions.
In 2014, Nayak was formally enrolled at the Ardor academy, which runs a programme for kids from the city's slums, giving them free training, uniforms and kits. "I started the academy both to promote the game and to find talented kids in the slums," Mahapatra said. Today, around 98 percent of the kids enrolled are from an underprivileged background.
Initially, Nayak was not allowed to compete for the Munich football camp because he fell far short of the age requirement of 14 to 16 years. "The organisers said he didn't meet the age criteria, so there was no point taking him for the all-India selection," Mahapatra said. "Yet, we persisted and he was selected purely on the basis of merit." In the end, Nayak was the youngest of the five kids selected from India for the Bayerne Munich football camp.
During his short stint in Munich, the young footballer left everyone impressed. "India is not known for its football. Being the smallest kid, he surprised everyone there," Mahapatra added. "He is hardly 5 feet tall, but fearless even when he plays against older players. This is just the beginning for him."