Sandesh Sigdel, Kathmandu
Lalitpur City FC’s roaring fans were introduced to the enthralling tale of a 17-year-old prodigy, Kushal Deuba, as the team advanced to the final of the second edition of the Nepal Super League.
Despite being reduced to ten men for more than 90 minutes, Lalitpur secured victory with Kushal’s remarkable 99th-minute goal, clinching a 2-1 win over Pokhara Thunders in additional extra time.
Kushal’s pivotal goal has elevated him to a distinct pedestal. Despite being a relatively undiscovered talent in Nepali football, the 17-year-old Nepal U-19 international has now become a revelation, much to the delight of Lalitpur and their coach, Ian Andrew Gillan.
Hailing from Far West of Nepal, Mahendranagar, Kushal embraced his passion for football from a young age. Like any child enamored with the game, Kushal’s love for football took root at home. His journey into the realm of football gained official momentum when, at the age of nine, he joined the Kanchanpur District Football Association Academy.
Fast forward five years and the little kid from the Far-West found himself in Kathmandu at the age of 14, playing for the Valley Eagles in the Martyr’s Memorial C Division League Qualifiers in 2021. That same year marked a significant turning point in his young career when Raniban Sports Club, a club from Bajura district, provided the 15-year-old Kushal with his first major opportunity in the C Division League.
However, Kushal’s otherwise seamless young career encountered a significant setback in 2022. Despite navigating through the U-17 National Team camp for the SAFF U-17 Championship, progressing from district-level trials to the National trials and beyond, he was sent home due to an injury.
Nonetheless, earlier this year, head coach Sunil Shrestha granted Kushal a spot in the final squad for the SAFF U-19 Championship hosted on home soil. Having come so close to donning the national colors last year, Kushal represented Nepal U-19 at the Dasharath Stadium earlier this year.
However, Nepal lost to India via Penalty shootout in the semifinals. Kushal started 2 out of 3 matches and added attacking spark in the team. Despite the setback, his performance was enough for the 16-year-old to catch eye of Lalitpur City. He was then invited into Lalitpur’s trials. And the rest they say, is history.
After scoring the goal that introduced him to the Nepali football fraternity, Kushal spoke to HamroKhelkud and expressed how confident he was in getting playing time, having been selected by Lalitpur before the tournament commenced.
“As a footballer, I believed I’d get playing time”, Kushal said. “The coach repeatedly said that young players will get chances if we performed well in training.”
He also added that having an experienced foreign coach has helped him learn new things.
“We’ve grasped some fundamental aspects under Ian’s guidance that were previously unfamiliar to us”, Kushal added. “His influence extends beyond the pitch and has contributed to our improvement in areas like punctuality as well as tactical knowledge.”
Lalitpur head coach Ian Andrew Gillan also took time to mention that Kushal is destined to be one of the stars of Nepali football in years to come. Captain Ananta Tamang spoke high about Kushal and praised his hardwork after the match.
Furthermore, Kushal emphasized the valuable learning experience he has gained from being part of the squad alongside Nepal internationals and foreign acquisitions. “It’s a different vibe to share the pitch with the senior Nepal internationals. We also have someone like Imoh (Ezekiel) who has European Champions League appearances. Hearing their stories and learning from them has helped us young players perform better”, said Kushal.
Kushal also enlightened us with the vision he has in mind for himself going forward in his career. He, “like Rohit Chand”, aspires to represent Nepal at the senior level as well as in the professional leagues abroad.
“Since childhood, my mindset has consistently revolved around the idea of evolving as a footballer. The belief has always been to absorb knowledge, develop skills, and maintain a positive mentality”, remarked Kushal.
“Having already played in age groups, young players like myself aspire to play for the senior national team. Beyond Nepal’s top division, my dreams extend to playing in professional leagues abroad, akin to the path forged by Rohit Chand in Indonesia. My ultimate aspiration is to become a football professional.”
But for now, his next big task lies ahead for Saturday as his side take on Dhangadhi FC for the NSL 2 title. With an injury-plagued squad and tired legs with the match coming up in under 48 hours after a 120-minute battle, Kushal will now have an eye on the Starting XI.
Even if he doesn’t start, the performance against Pokhara has guaranteed him some minutes. His long dreams can wait out but the final arrives quickly with another opportunity to make a mark, for himself, and for Lalitpur.