Kochi: He scored the lone goal in the Nehru Cup final but NP Pradeep is still to come to terms with his overnight stardom in his football-crazy home state of Kerala.
Pradeep struggled through abject poverty and even his father's death to win the Nehru Cup football tournament for the first time for the India.
His blistering long ranger won the final and a long cherished Indian dream came true at the Ambedkar Stadium on Wednesday.
But for Pradeep, the goal of glory came the hard way.
He still lives in a unfinished little hut and having survived extreme poverty, sometimes finding even a single meal is tough.
Not many know that he lost his father to a heart-attack just a month before he achieved his moment of glory.
"It was tough, very tough. I really had to struggle to remain with football until the State Bank of Travancore team took me in. I now play for Mahindra United. I could not make it to even my college football team while I was in pre-degree at the Kerala Varma College in Thrissur. I wasn't sure if I could really afford to get into football then," says Pradeep.
But things changed after someone spotted the youngster at a youth camp that the Kerala Football Association held in Thodupuzha and his friends pitched in to help.
"There was a lot of financial problem at my home. My friends and parents supported me. Even my passport was made by well wishers," he says.
The youngest son of Pappachan and Savitri Pradeep started his journey at the age of 10. And despite his financial situation turning worse by the day there was no shortage of encouragement to chase his dream.
"When ever I saw the advertisement in the newspaper for the selection of football team I would take him there. In many place he was disqualified. But I know he will become a winner one day. Our financial situation was very bad. We gave him all the support," an emotional Savitri says.
The beacon light of Indian football still looks heavenwards for inspiration but does the country look up to him remains a tough question.
(With inputs from Reghuraj R and Digvijay Singh Deo)