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North-East: India's football hub gets a new entrant in the I-League

North-East: Indias football hub gets a new entrant in the I-League

Sounak Mullick

Published: 26 May 2019 7:31 PM GMT
There has been nothing much eventful in Indian football for the past few months, except the historical feat by Chennai City FC which saw them lift the coveted I-League trophy for the first time ever. We witnessed how a low-budget football unit conquered the nation with a pool of local talents and a Spanish quartet along with a mastermind, Akbar Nawas. The team from South India made their debut just two seasons back, but within a blink of an eye, they are now a powerhouse in the reckoning. The club management strengthened their foothold by joining hands with FC Basel for their developmental activities. Tiddim Road Athletic Club (TRAU FC) is yet another club from humble backgrounds of the North Eastern state of Manipur. The Imphal based team was promoted to the I-League recently after they won the 2018-19 2nd division I-league. Teams from the North East have always been formidable, after all, it is a hotbed of Indian football. The induction of local boys by these teams have been of top notch in the past decade, with some of them donning the national colours. Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Udanta Singh and Seminlen Doungel are some of the few names who made it big from the region. Even though North East United FC enjoyed their best ever ISL season, it was a heartbreak for the region as their most veteran I-League team, Shillong Lajong FC, was relegated from the I-League after they played with an all-Indian unit. Nevertheless, teams from the North-Eastern part of our country have always given other teams a run for their money in the elite competition. Aizawl FC, a club based out of the capital of Mizoram created history by becoming the first team from the region to claim the coveted I-League trophy back in the 2016-17 edition. The lion’s share of the Indian players were local boys, who prospered under the influence of veteran tactician Khalid Jamil. Each of them gained acclaim and earned lucrative deals in the following year. The abundant supply of players is a predominating trait of this area. Aizawl’s win changed the attitude of the teams from the ‘highlands.’ They gained huge fan following, even though football prevailed as their primary sport for decades, Aizawl FC’s campaign gave a real push. NEROCA FC was another success story. Also, a club from Imphal, the North Eastern Re-Organising Cultural Association Football Club (NEROCA FC) made its I-League debut in the 2017-18 season. They had an instant impact, securing a runners-up finish with the aid of Gift Raikhan in his managerial debut. As per the trend, many of their players were native to the place.
The existence of North-Eastern teams not only makes Indian football competitive but also provides a plethora of raw talents for its arsenal. With one of the teams from the region relegated, TRAU FC will shoulder the burden of carrying on the legacy for the football-crazy corner of the nation. It is important that clubs promote local talents rather than just relying on the services of expensive foreign recruits. Teams which inculcate the habit of local talents have tasted success in the recent past. Minerva Punjab FC and Chennai City FC have been benefitted largely from this area during the respective I-League titles in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. With the I-League already being neglected for its richer cousin, the Indian Super League, the onus will be on the I-League teams to improve their standards and keep its existence alive. Heavyweights like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Churchill Brothers will always make the league glamorous, but the responsibility also lies on the fresh teams to make an effort to get an equal footing as the rest. Only then will Indian football improve as a whole. Let us hope that we witness yet another enthralling season of Indian football. Real Kashmir FC had a memorable debut in the I-League too, having finished 3rd in the 2018-19 edition after staying in the title hunt till the business end of the tournament. Going by the recent records, promoted teams have been successful in the maiden appearance. Hopefully, TRAU FC will try to keep buck the trend when the new season of the I-League kicks-off later this year.
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