‘It was the football field or the ginger field, there was never an in between’

For Midfielder Emanuel Lalchhanchuaha, Life Has Always Been On A Patch Of Green. We Sat Down With The Boy From Mizoram Who Was Named The Blues’ U18 Player Of The Year…

In 2019, Emanuel Lalchhanchuaha pulled on the Bengaluru FC shirt in five different competitions. He traveled to Kolkata for the Durand Cup, Goa for the Vedanta Youth Cup and Hyderabad for the U18 I-League. He also represented the BFC reserve side in the BDFA Super Division League and the 2nd Division League. It may seem like a breakthrough season for a boy who’s worked tirelessly to climb his way up the ranks, but the truth, is contrast. Emanuel joined the Blues less than a year ago.

“When I started playing football in my village, it was because everyone loved the sport. I was a small boy and my father was the one who saw that I had some potential. In the villages, there are no coaches or promoters for football. You just have to keep playing, hope someone takes note and wish for word to spread. That’s what I did, and soon I was in the U-17 Mizoram Camp for the BC Roy Trophy and that’s when coach Moosa came to watch our practice session and later my game in the Mizoram Premier League. It’s really nice to know that people from big clubs have come to watch you play, and at that time I was playing for a small club called Electric Veng FC. I had never once thought that I’d be the one to come here,” Emanuel admits.

He’s had a fair share of moving about and in his modest self, says that all his football experiences put together hadn’t quite prepared him for life at BFC. “To be honest, before I joined BFC, I had played for different clubs as well as for the junior national team. I was even selected to go to Germany through a UDream Program. But to move to BFC was an opportunity I didn’t ever expect. Of course I wanted it, and I believed I was good enough to, but getting ahead of myself was something I wasn’t willing to do,” he says.

“I cannot tell you how much I have improved since I’ve joined here. And apart from what you see on the pitch, there is a mental aspect too. Our coach (Naushad) Moosa has played a big role in my improvement. He’s always calling me aside and helping me. Having a coach who is a former player who has represented so many big clubs and the national team at such a high level really helps. I cannot thank him enough for all that he has done for me.”

Emanuel scored his first goal for the Blues against ARA FC in the 2nd Division League, and remembers that moment as a special point in his season. “I’m not a goalscoring midfielder, to be honest. But I’ve had the opportunity to score quite a few for the national team and for the teams I represented in the Mizoram Premier League. To score for BFC was special because I feel like I’ve become a part of a movement, really. It’s amazing what this club has achieved in such a short span of time and to be able to get my name on the scoresheet was really special.”

Back home in Pehlawn, a tiny spot on the map of Mizoram, Emanuel’s parents try their best to keep in touch with their son’s progress. “My parents are farmers. We have a small field back at home where we grow cabbage and ginger. Growing up, it was always the football fields or the ginger fields for me. There really wasn’t an in between. At times, they did ask me to focus on my studies, and I have an uncle who still wants me to join the army! But my performances in football over the last few years have given them more hope. They’re always calling me and motivating me to achieve great things because they now believe that even a sport like football can give me a career.”

The club’s Head of Youth Development and Emanuel’s Head Coach in every team he has represented this season, Moosa sees immense potential in the midfielder’s abilities and doesn’t hesitate in heaping praise. “Emanuel is the player who played maximum number of games for our team last year. Out of the 38 available games to the team, he was part of 31 of them. He is a hard working and honest kid, who is disciplined off the pitch as well. He keeps himself focused and I have to say he is like a Suresh Wangjam in the making,” says Moosa.

A diminutive figure on the field, Emanuel is often seen dropping deep to receive the ball and bring it forward into attack, a role Moosa believe suits the youngster. “We often forget how young Emanuel is because he’s sometimes taking on players who are 10 years older than him, which tells you how good he can be in the future. I trust him with the ball at his feet and with his ability to carry it down the pitch, which is why I give him a free role. I think he needs to be more selfish and work on his finishing because he prefers to pass when he has an opportunity to score, but that will change in time,” says Moosa.

After his performances during the season, Emanuel was named the club’s U18 Player of the Year, a moment he says will live with him for a long time to come. “My footballing idol while growing up was Shylo Malsawmtluanga, people call him Mama Sailo. He’s someone who is adored in that part of the country and he still inspires me. I had never thought I’d be named the best player in my age category, because there are so many good players in our team. In fact, when I see my BFC jerseys in the wardrobe, sometimes I still can’t quite believe that I’m even here. That award gives me the motivation to work hard and achieve more in the future and I have to thank the club for that.”

Unable to travel home due to the national lockdown, Emanuel is constantly in touch with his parents and confesses that he is homesick. “Until I was about 12 years old, I had not worn a pair of football shoes. When my father managed to make some money by selling ginger in Silchar, a tiny district in Assam, he came back with a pair of football shoes as a gift for me. Back then, that was money we didn’t have, and if it wasn’t for the sacrifices my parents made for me when I was growing up I wouldn’t be here. I wish I could go home and help my parents on the field, but every time they call me they’re telling me that it’s okay and they’re just happy that I’m safe and sound.”