Nepalese-Hongkonger Sneha Limbu looks to bring refreshing Samba skills after graduating to club's senior set-up
The 16-year-old talks of her admiration for Neymar, cultural integration, and realising her dad's football ambitions
Hong Kong women's under-18s starlet Sneha Limbu would love to be considered the city's Neymar as she continues to emulate the Brazilian's unmistakable flair on the pitch.
The Hong Kong-born Nepalese attacker, whose ascent through the national youth system was this season capped with a graduation to Citizen's senior team, has been diligently drilling from home as the global pandemic continues to rage.
"When I was a kid, I would compare myself to Neymar because I could dribble a lot and was more skilful," said the 16-year-old Limbu, who has spent the last couple of years under the careful tutelage of Hong Kong women's manager Betty Wong Yeuk-ling.
"Now, I still compare myself with Neymar. I would love to [be known as the Hong Kong Neymar]. I love to show samba skills, flicks across players, and make them fall down. But sometimes it's hard to find the timing."
Limbu's dream has been the same since primary school: to play professional football for one of the world's leading teams. Such an achievement would be significant, not just for herself, but also her football-mad, Barcelona-loving family.
"Football means a lot to us. My dad used to play football as a kid but he got injured and there also wasn't really that much support in Nepal at the time. My dad told me that he supports us a lot because he couldn't do what he wanted to do," Limbu said, recalling an amusing moment after getting called up to the Hong Kong U14s team for the first time.
Hong Kong national youth team player Sneha Limbu controls play in a game against BIIK Kazygurt. Photo: Handout
"At first my dad didn't believe me. I had to tell my school coach, Mr Chan, to call my parents and confirm the news. Then he could say he was really happy. It feels really good to represent the national team because in Hong Kong that's the highest level you can get to. I really want to do something for the team, like win the Asian Games or other big tournaments."
The journey from playing school five-a-side games on makeshift basketball courts to formally representing her home in an international has not been smooth sailing, however. Limbu described initial difficulties in cultural integration, only feeling relief when a ball was at her feet.
"When we were first at school, it was hard for us to adapt to the language – everything was explained in Cantonese," she said. "We really struggled but then we got used to everything and learned to speak Cantonese. [Football] did help me a lot.
"In my first primary school game, I found I could [turn] a lot of players, go solo and score, and bring the team up. I think in my first year of five-a-side we came second or third in the whole of Hong Kong."
Now a proud student at Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary School (West Kowloon), Limbu conceded her studies "are not really good" but insisted she was catching up with peers all whilst maintaining her lifelong ambitions.
"I really, really wanted to be a footballer player and would only focus on football. I would fade away from studies and sometimes got [off track]. I'm starting to see that studies are really important so I'm trying to catch up. For social life, I do hang out with friends but I really want to work on my football. Friends I can see in school, but when I have time I like to work out," Limbu said.
Nepalese-Hongkonger Sneha Limbu and her football fanatic family. Photo: Handout
The mentally resolute teen is not exaggerating. Limbu regularly posts personal workouts and training sessions on social media, be it keepy-uppies in her living room or running drills at nearby parks and pitches. The recent re-postponement of training and matches for club and country will mean more of the same.
"My parents are not really letting me go out because of the pandemic, but for a few weeks it wasn't that serious in Hong Kong so we would go out and train," she said.
"If I can't train outside, I train in the house. If you're a footballer, you should be working, not just staying at home and thinking 'oh it's a pandemic, I should just work out'. No. You have to train whether or not there is a pandemic. You really have to work if you want to be someone," Limbu added.
Hong Kong women's U-18s footballer Sneha Limbu poses with teammates ahead of a national game in the Turkish Cup. Photo: Handout
The Nepalese-Hongkonger is undoubtedly showing the makings of a "someone" as several video highlights show her seamlessly gliding through opposition defenders, regardless of age. The discrepancy in technique is as glaring as her football-centric mission.
"I just work hard, that's it. I work on my speed, do skills and dribbles, and little things and tactics," Limbu said. "Before an important game, I have this mindset to prove something on the field. I would train myself to decide to score or assist or win the game," Limbu said, adding that while she has always been confident in taking players on, she has since learned the importance of knowing "when to pass, make runs, and cross players" in a team setting.
Having already won leagues and cups in her youth days, Limbu is ready to make her mark in the senior team set-up. Even more encouraging is that coach Wong's invaluable instructions are music to her ears.
"My teammates tell me to work hard and ga yaau [Cantonese phrase of encouragement], while my coach tells me to be myself and play how I played in the youth team. I think I'm getting used to playing with them," she said.
"My goal this season is to win the league, of course, with the youth and seniors. For the national team, it's to work hard and stay in competitions. We want to not just win but improve ourselves. I want to play for FC Barcelona or any top club in the world someday," added Limbu, singling out now-PSG player Neymar's rise from bairrio club Santos to international superstardom.
"I'm a big fan of the way he plays. He brings so much joy and excitement to people with all his skills, assists and everything. Not a lot of players do that, but Neymar does. He makes players fade [away]. And it makes you want to do that, too."
Citizen attacker Sneha Limbu shoots in a league game against Chelsea Hong Kong in January. Photo: Handout