Who is Apuia Ralte? 10 things to know about ISL's Emerging Player of the Season
The emerging player of the 2020-21 ISL season, Lalengmawia 'Apuia' Ralte is one for the future, both for club and country.
NorthEast United had a very promising Indian Super League (ISL) campaign in the 2020-21 season. Under Gerard Nus and then Khalid Jamil, the Highlanders managed to surprise a lot of people as they strung together a number of impressive displays on the way to only their second playoff appearance. One player who was at the heart of it all was young midfielder Lalengmawia 'Apuia' Ralte. In this column, we are going to take a look at the youngster's story so far and try to understand what makes him so special.
Where is he from, and what is his family background?
Apuia was born on 17 October 2000 in the city of Aizawl in Mizoram. The only earning member in his family is his father who works as a butcher. Even then, his parents have always supported his passion for football and been there for him throughout.
When did he start playing football?
He started playing football at the tender age of 6. His first big break arrived when he was selected to play in his school team for the U14 Subroto Cup, which is probably the biggest inter-school football competition in the country.
Who are his idols in football?
Young Apuia is an ardent FC Barcelona and Aizawl FC fan. His favourite footballer is Lionel Messi while closer home, he idolizes former East Bengal and current Real Kashmir midfielder Lalrindika Ralte, also from Mizoram.
What other sports is he into?
When he was young, Apuia used to play basketball alongside football and was keenly interested in the sport. He is also an avid gamer and spends much of his free time with his gaming console, a trait that is shared by most footballers all around the world.
Which clubs has he played for?
Apuia was picked up by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Elite Academy U18 team ahead of the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017 where he was one of India's eye-catching performers. Thereafter, he joined Indian Arrows during the 2017-18 I-League season and featured twice that term. Next season though, he made as many as 11 appearances for the developmental side and it was then that he was noticed by NorthEast officials. Apuia moved on to the ISL outfit ahead of the 2019-20 season and immediately established himself as a starter. There has been no looking back since.
What are some of his qualities as a player?
Tough in body and mind, relentless, forward-looking and with an inexhaustible engine, that is how most people would describe Apuia, the player. However, with time he has improved other aspects of his game like his passing accuracy, ability to compete against more physical players and game-reading. The bottom-line being that Apuia is one of those players who covers every blade of grass on a football pitch and is a dream for any coach.
How are his statistics for ISL 2020-21?
In the season just gone by, the 20-year-old midfielder featured in every game for his side. He notched up an impressive 74.5% passing accuracy on average in each game and had well over a thousand touches of the ball. He also scored an absolutely world class long-range goal that will be remembered for a long time. Defensively he wasn't a stooge either. He has 93 tackles, 46 interceptions, 23 clearances and 23 blocks to show for his efforts and was also extremely disciplined throughout, having seen just one yellow card.
What were his notable achievements this season?
During the U17 World Cup, Apuia was the only player from Mizoram to feature in the Indian squad. While that might have been quite an achievement on its own, this season has seen him capture the imagination of the Indian football fans like never before. He became the youngest captain in the history of the ISL when he led NorthEast United in their draw against FC Goa in December. What's more, he won the man of the match award in the same game. As if that wasn't enough, his consistent performances throughout the campaign saw him being honoured with the Emerging Player of the Season award.
After an impressive ISL, who is he being linked with?
His emergence in the ISL has seen a number of big clubs show interest in signing the youngster. Both ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC are said to be weighing up moves for him, while SC East Bengal, who were initially also in line for a potential move, have reportedly shifted their gaze towards his NorthEast teammate Ninthoi Meetei.
Is he a safe bet for the national team going forward?
Following on from his exploits in the ISL, Apuia got a national team call-up for India's friendlies against Oman and UAE in late March. Although India drew 1-1 against Oman and lost 6-0 against UAE, the young starlet was one of the few positives from the trip, especially in the first game against Oman where he came on in the second half and immediately added energy and thrust into the Indian midfield.
Based on his recent performances, Apuia seems to be a long-term prospect for both club and country. Always eager to learn and improve, the Mizo lad has a big future ahead of him if he can just put his head down and keep working on his game.