Two weeks after I-League 2017-18 came to an end, the season awards were announced. Having contributed to NEROCA FC's nine clean-sheets in his 18 league appearances where he scored two goals as well, Varney Kallon Kiatamba Jr. was awarded ‘’Jarnail Singh Award for Best Defender’’. The Liberian earned a name for himself away from home but this was never his plan. In fact, he had no intentions of a football career in India.
‘’I actually didn’t come to play football in India. I’d come here only for my visa.. When I had joined a club in Myanmar, my visa from Africa was done online. But when it expired, I needed another employment visa for which I had to get out of the country,’’ Kallon tells Goal.
Kallon took to football back in high school, where his passion for the game developed. Pursuing the desire to be a professional, the African decided to move to Asia. Plying his trade for MLN-2 side Chin United in 2013, he was a part of the team which was promoted to Myanmar National League, the country’s top division. It was only after achieving this, that he flew to to Kerala.
‘’When I flew to India to get my visa done, my friend asked me to come to Kerala. So I spent a month there,’’ he recalls. The friend was Eric Brown, a former Mumbai FC midfielder and fellow Liberian. ‘’I chose India because Eric Brown had recommended it to me.’’
Thanks to Brown, Kallon was also introduced to I-League. Following Brown’s posts on social media, Kallon was aware of Indian football, before he left the African continent. ‘’I came to know of I-League because of my friend Eric Brown, who was playing for Pune FC and had played for Mumbai FC and United SC previously. While I was in Myanmar, he used to often keep me updated. Sometimes he would post updates ahead of his match on Facebook and having followed that, I got to know about Indian football,’’ Kallon explains.
In Kallon, NEROCA got a robust character, marshalling the backline. The Manipuri outfit were in need of a defender and a striker before their 2016-17 season in second division and hence they roped him in.
‘’NEROCA officials spoke to Chika Wali and told him that the club needed a striker and a defender. So my friend Wali recommended me and my friend Emmanuel (Ejiogu Chinedu Emmanuel).
‘’I played for Vasco SC in Goa and that is where NEROCA contacted me. I joined them in 2016 in the second division and after we won the championship, I went back to Africa,’’ Kallon revealed.
After returning home, the defender was offered to move to Myanmar yet again but he decided to extend his stint with the Manipuri outfit. ‘’At the end of the first year, a club from Myanmar was calling me. But I rejected because India is much better in terms of media, relationships and also the people of Manipur encouraged me. Therefore, I decided to stay back after our promotion.’’
Having played every single minute in the 2017-18 chapter of I-League, Kallon was a constant presence in Gift Raikhan’s defensive unit. Stepping up in crucial situations, the centre-back even bagged two goals.
‘’I was named the best defender because of my consistency in performance and my own achievement on the pitch as I won three ‘Hero of the match’ awards. For a club like NEROCA coming from second division, it is difficult to maintain the spirit. We conceded the least goals and I even got two goals for myself. Coming from down and to finish second was a big achievement for the club,’’ he reflects.
Currently giving his all for NEROCA as they contest in Super Cup 2018, Kallon aims to end the season on a high. ‘’For now, I am concentrating on the Super Cup because for a footballer, having a good season is important for the future. I had a good start to the league and so I want to complete it with a good performance in Super Cup and help my club.’’
Regardless of how NEROCA perform in the tournament, it is certain that Kallon has been the finest defender in this season of India’s top-tier.