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HB Live: Nicolas Leandro Velez, the Argentine heartthrob

Ask a NEUFC fan about his favourite player who has ever donned the Jersey of the Highlanders. More often than not you'd hear the name of this Argentine. In our fifth episode of #HiHighlander we caught up with this popular ex-NEUFC forward Nico Velez. In his two years with the Highlanders, he impressed everyone in the stands of Sarusajai with his trickery, flair, finishing and his zeal.

Picture source: ISL

Currently plying his trade with Felda United in Malaysia Super league Nico said on the present situation of Covid-19 that "It's a difficult situation for everyone. people who need to work can't go to work". He further added "as football players, we miss training, the games, but I think there are a lot of important things before football. I hope this situation finishes soon for the best of everyone."

Nico started playing when he was 4 years old in the local club in his city in Argentina, where some scouts spotted him and brought him to the club. He eventually spent 11 years there. He studied and did all his academy there. When he went to his second club, River Plate, he played with some amazing players like Erik Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United) there. In search of opportunities, he then went to Huracan, another club in Argentina. He had a small spell in Spain and Singapore followed thereafter.

While in Singapore impressed by his skills he was offered the passport of Singapore to be able to play in the national team before Cesar Farias came calling for NEUFC. When he came to know about ISL and the big stars playing in this part of the world, he was excited and thought that it might be a big opportunity. Now Nico feels he was right.

Talking about the impact ISL had in his growth he said that when he finished the season in 2015, many people from around the world came calling for him. It was then that he realised the popularity of ISL. Clubs like Hajduk split from Croatia, some clubs from Sud America who play Copa Libertadores and a few clubs from South Asia too came with their offers. Nico chose Hajduk for his next destination.

On being asked about his experience playing with Simao Sabrosa, Nico said "it was an amazing experience for me to play alongside not just Simao, but also players like Zokora, Romaric, who had played in big teams. Every day I tried to learn from them everything I could. But the most important thing and I was surprised that they were humble to everyone. In spite of being big players, they were one of us. I'm still friends with them, I met Simao last year, was coached by Silas in Portugal."

We asked him about his second season with NEUFC and he felt that the second season at NEUFC was a bit unlucky for him. He got injuries before the season ended. "when I was out in the last game against Kerala, I tried my best. I even went for warm-up with so much pain. I tried my best till the end and at that moment I told the coach to pull one player who can give hundred percent instead of me" he said. "I remember that season, we were a young team, we played attacking football. Because of the injuries, we got unlucky" he added.

We asked him why he left after the second season in India. He informed us that midway through the season in 2016, he got a call from Cesar Farias to play in Thailand. ISL used to start very late then and for a player, to be without a club for 6 months was not easy. so he thought that it would be a good decision to accept Cesar's offer.

Nico has played in three Asian leagues so far. We asked him about his experience in the three leagues.

He answered that the high quality of the local and foreign players in this part of the world surprised him. It was a bit hard to adapt to the conditions here at first but once he got used to it everything got easier.

We were wondering if he still followed ISL, Nico was quick to respond in affirmative. He added that Northeast was one of the best teams in his career. So he does follow ISL and support NEUFC in the games. In the fifth season, he was rooting for NEUFC to get to the finals.

we asked him if there is any routine that follows before a game. He said that in 2015 when he was in NEUFC, the assistant of Cesar Farias asked him to imagine the game in his mind the night before any game. From then it has been his routine to imagine how he'd play and finish the shots. "I imagine how I'll finish the goals the night before the game. During the week, I train and take care of myself with training, food and rest. During games I try to stay calm, to enjoy, listen to some music and when the time comes just go and do my best." he answered.

When a player is heavily invested in a game and the results do not go according to the plans it becomes a bit difficult to cope with it mentally. We asked Nico what he does in such situations. "you have to forget everything quickly. What is past is past, you can't change it. I always say one sentence that a coach in Singapore used to say to me - what's next? - that is important for a footballer." was his answer.

When asked about his plans for the future and if he'd like to come back to India, Nico mentioned that he is happy in Malaysia, his family also loves staying in Malaysia. But One can't predict the future, if something good comes up he'd love to come back to India.

The Argentine had witnessed India's footballing system very closely in two seasons. We asked him about his opinion on football at the grassroots level in India. He maintained that India has a great talent pool which can be seen in the national team. To do better India needs to start with the academies in the club as well as the national team, in the age groups, as they are the future. So, for India to improve it should try to be the best in Asia. When it reaches that target, it can aim for more.

Nico spoke pretty highly of the fans in North-eastern India. "They are the best. They always support me. When I came to India I didn't expect that and I'm really grateful for that. So, I wish them the best and I hope they also get the happiness that they give to the players."

Well, we too wish good health to you and your family Nico!! We wish that you have a great season with Felda United in the upcoming year.

The Rapid Fire round:

-Favourite club in the world: Arsenal and Barcelona (as the king is there, Messi)

-Coach he'd like to work under: Pep Guardiola

-Favourite player in the world: Lionel Messi

-Favourite Indian player: Sunil Chhetri

-Any pre-match ritual that he follows: Listen to some music and pray, not to win the match but for fitness of all 22 players in the field.

-Best buddy from his time in NEUFC: Emiliano Alfaro

-If not a footballer what would he be: when he was a kid he'd always tell his mother that he wanted to be a doctor

-Favourite stadium in the world: Camp Nou

-Cesar Farias or Nelo Vingada: Both, he had great experiences with both of them.

-Would you come back to NEUFC (yes/No/Maybe): If there is an opportunity and everything falls into place then why not.

-Is he still in contact with anyone from the club: Yes, John Abraham.

Favourite Indian Food: Cheese Naan

Watch the full video here:

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