Northeast football has come a long way and although there are still gaps especially in terms of infrastructure, there is a sense in the region that football which has always been the favourite sport here is bound to get only bigger and better. This is a realisation that every football loving fan knows, the number of up and coming youngsters proves the point that football isn’t just something you play in your spare time but it can actually be a viable career option. Schools and colleges are hosting tournaments, they want to find talent and look for it whether in some local neighbourhood club or in a more well organized five a side tournament. Mizoram has seen a wide range of footballers make a name for themselves, they are becoming household names and it seems much easier for a young footballer now to follow his dreams than it was for his father who probably had to hang up his boots in order to find a job that actually pays. India focuses on careers such as doctors, lawyers and engineers and puts little or no focus on sport but this is slowly changing especially here in the Northeast. A player who plays in the I-League can easily earn 25 lakhs a year, while playing for the ISL would prove even more fruitful as they could be valued crores. Most footballers from the region come from backgrounds which can only be described as very humble but with hard work and determination, they end up making something of themselves. This realisation is starting to get embedded into the minds of young people who have hopes that even they can make a living playing the beautiful game. There was a point where being a football player in India meant less pay, this has now changed greatly and the emergence of football helps create a new source of economic income which will only help the region.
A player slowly but surely making a name for himself is 18 year old Daniel Lalhlimpuia. He plays for Bengaluru FC and made a mark with the I League champions the last season. He comes from a very small village in Mizoram. Speaking to Jessica from TNT-The Northeast Today, Daniel talks about how he never expected his life to turn out this way. It never crossed his mind that his dream of being a professional footballer would materialise. He spoke on how winning the I-League with Bengaluru FC last season was a dream and he never thought that it would happen so early in his career. Daniel who is extremely soft spoken was very diplomatic when asked who his favourite player in the region is, he could not answer with just one name but named multiple players, but his favourite Indian player is Sunil Chhetri who he says is a very good leader and role model. He talked at length at how hard it was for him in his first season as he was plagued with injury the first half of the season, but when he was on the pitch he let people know his presence. The young striker scored the lone goal against Mumbai FC which was the first time the club had beat Mumbai. This was a moment of great pride for him and lifting the cup was another great moment.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
TNT. Tell us about yourself and your football journey.
DL. My name is Daniel and I play for Bengaluru FC. I am from the Serchhip district in Mizoram. It was always a dream to play professionally. I began playing football when I was about 9 years old and today at 18 I am playing for last season’s Champions. It has been amazing and the journey wonderful. I was with Chandigarh football Academy for 7 years and that really help shape me into the footballer I am today.
TNT. Tell us how you came to be scouted by Bengaluru FC. How has your time at the club been like so far?
DL. I was playing with the India U-19 team and we were in a friendly match with Bengaluru FC. It was after that match that they came to me and showed their interest. The club is very supportive and I have good team mates, Sunil Chhetri is a great captain and his skill is unparalleled. Our coach Ashley Westwood is also an amazing coach and I strongly believe that he is the best coach I have ever had so far. He really believes in the youngsters and the team and we all trust his judgement.
TNT. What are you focused on for the upcoming season.
DL. I want to remain fit and give it my 100%. Right now we are focused on the AFC Cup as we have now reached the Quarter Final stage. The club is making history right now and we hope to continue advancing forward.
TNT. What do you think of the direction Indian football is heading especially since the introduction of the ISL?
DL. Football in the country is getting better and ISL is only helping gain fans. The excitement and entertainment value is at par with European football and it is very exciting.
TNT. What about the World Cup? Will India qualify soon—what do you think?
DL. We should focus on conquering Asia first. Asia itself has so much talent so we should try to dominate in the continent first. Maybe in the coming years but right now we have to focus on continuing to build our team.
TNT. What should we expect from you in the future?
DL. I don’t think that far ahead, right now I am only focused on the upcoming season. However, playing for the Indian National team is every footballer’s dream so I hope I will be capped by my country.
TNT. Thank you Daniel for your time, I’m sure we will see great things from you and I hope you the best for the future.
(By Jessica Passah)