The Indian Super League has provided a platform for some of the best Indian talents in recent years. The amount of time and energy that has been put into the grassroots level is finally paying off. With several academies producing young and exciting talents, the future is indeed bright for the country. In fact, the Indian Super League of 2020/21 illustrated the quality exhibited by several young Indian prospects.
One such player, in particular, hailing from the state of Mizoram, Lalengmawia, has already caught the eye. Not to mention, fans have indeed tipped the midfielder as the next big name of Indian football.
For a decade or more, the identity of Indian football rested heavily upon Sunil Chhetri. A name that is often put alongside those Indian footballing legends IM Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia. For Chhetri, who turns 37 in August, the good old days of football are long gone but despite his advancing years he still provides quality and an unparalleled professionalism for his club and the country.
India’s search for the next top name in Indian football goes way back to a millennium. From the golden age of the Santhosh Trophy to the days of I-League football, several young talents from across the country had shown the quality to be great. But due to a lack of proper platforms for development, poor infrastructure and training methods, many talents were wasted.
Also many young promising talents were often mistakingly hyped to the hilt. The lack of proper support from the relevant footballing bodies and corruption made football less attractive to many financiers. However now, with a series of right decisions and several new investments, the landscape of football in the country is finally changing. Such a developmental approach has given us a world-class talent in 20-year-old midfielder Lalengmawia.
‘Apuia’- A player in Making
‘Apuia’or Lalengmawia was born and raised in Mizoram, the northeastern part of India, where football is predominant. Growing up, he had his first taste of football at the age of 6, followed by his chance to play in the U-14 Subroto Cup at the school level. The son of a butcher, he was given full support by his family early on in his life, which paved the way for his proper introduction to football.
In the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017, he played some fantastic football despite a subpar performance from the team. Thereafter, he joined the Indian Arrows for the 2017-18 I-League season and featured twice during his first season there. Next season though, he became a regular starter for the club’s developmental side. With key performances, he was soon picked by scouts from NorthEast United FC. Hence, he moved to NEUFC in the 2019-20 season and immediately established himself as a starter.
He was initially noticed during the trials for the U17 World Cup. Due to his 10th standard exam, he was unable to attend the first trial. However, he was lucky enough to be a part of another trial that occurred in 2016. Apuia went for the trials, joined the All India Football Federation Elite Academy in Goa, and became the first Mizoram player to feature in the U-17 World Cup for India.
Around 3 years later, at the age of 20 years, he became the youngest player ever to captain an ISL side for NorthEast against FC Goa. With exceptional leadership quality and deliverance in time of need, Apuia earns himself the title of a versatile player henceforth.
This was apparent against Kerala Blasters this season, against whom, he managed to score a screamer, which guaranteed NorthEast United a place in the final four. Even though the highlanders didn’t win the league, Apuia received the accolade for the emerging player of the tournament. His exceptional performance and hard work in mid-field made NEUFC solid throughout the season.
Not a physical player in structure, Apuia is very good at winning possession as well. Idolizing Mario Ballotelli, you could see a never give up attitude in him. He is also an ardent fan of FC Barcelona. His favourite footballer is Lionel Messi, and that may be a reason why he is excellent with the ball as well.
Primarily a deep-lying midfielder, his fluidity and composure to switch between midfield provide a wide area of scope for development. His energy and quality in keeping hold of the ball and picking out defence-splitting passes are exceptional. Depite his tender years, he still stands shoulder to shoulder with veterans that play in the team. Already being praised by pundits, fans and other players alike, it will be interesting to see where he is headed next. With several European clubs conducting trials across Asia, the possibility of him playing in a top league is now a strong possibility.
For India, Apuia is a leading example of a talent the country can produce and nurture.