AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: The Hero ISL 2020-21 has seen a number of players stand out and make themselves count, with NorthEast United FC midfielder Lalengmawia 'Apuia' Ralte catching the eye with his scintillating displays in the middle of the park. Wearing the number 45 jersey for the Highlanders, he played a key role in their memorable run to the semifinals and in a chat with AIFF TV, he revealed the reason behind his choice of jersey number.
"45 -- it's my favourite number because of one man, Mario Balotelli. I like him a lot and admire his confidence and calmness. He never panics. That's why I chose number 45 for my jersey and will continue with it," Lalengmawia stated while sharing his admiration of the 30-year-old Italian striker, who is a UEFA Champions League, Serie A and Premier League title winner.
The 20-year-old midfielder, by virtue of his performances in the Hero ISL, was named in the list of 35 probables for the forthcoming Indian senior national team camp by head coach Igor Stimac. Sharing his thoughts on the same, Lalengmawia stated that he is determined to give his best and thanked the head coach for 'trusting him'.
"I haven't achieved anything yet. I have been called as a probable and haven't been selected yet. But, I would like to thank coach Mr. Stimac for trusting me and calling me for the probables squad. I’ll work hard to pay him back and give my best. I’ll do my best to make the country proud," Lalengmawia said.
He continued, "This will be my first time playing for the national team. It will be difficult to compete against the best players in the country and there will be pressure but I need to work on that because it’s all about competing against each other in football. I will have to work hard more than ever because I’ll have to compete against the best in the country."
The youngster also mentioned that during the league, he received a text message from the head coach himself and how it motivated him further.
'WITHOUT ARROWS, I WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN HERE'
"While playing the ISL, I got a message from him (head coach Stimac). I was very happy and surprised. He told me that he has chosen me as a probable for the camp and how I can help the team. I am happy and will work hard to pay him back for his trust in me," Lalengmawia expressed.
The central midfielder has now completed two campaigns with NorthEast United FC but it was at the Indian Arrows that his journey in professional football began. He spoke about the value of that experience and how getting game-time helped him improve.
"Playing for Indian Arrows was an important step for everyone in that team. In the Hero I-League, there were a lot of good Indian and foreign players, and competing against the best helped us a lot. We got a lot of valuable game time, which was very important for us to improve ourselves."
"The Arrows game time and exposure helped us become better players and if we hadn't got that experience, I wouldn't be here in life at this point. It is very difficult for a player without experience and exposure to play at the top level because there is a lot of pressure when playing against the top players. The time with the Arrows really helped us in that regard as well," he quipped.
'LUCKY TO HAVE HAD SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN'
A former junior India international, Lalengmawia was part of the Indian side that took part in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. He termed it as a 'life-changing opportunity' and looked back at the positives of having played at the historic event and the numerous exposure matches against top-quality opposition.
"Everyone knew that it was the first time that an Indian team would play in a FIFA World Cup and that we will create history. It was already a great achievement and it gave us goosebumps. When I was chosen for the World Cup, everyone back home was very happy knowing that it can be a life-changing opportunity. We were lucky to be a part of the Under-17 team."
"After I got selected, we travelled to different countries and played against many countries with good players like Vinicius Jr. and Haaland (Erling Haaland). Playing against them helped us a lot, not only me but everyone involved in the game. It was a great experience for Indian players to have such an opportunity and I want to thank AIFF for providing us with such a platform. We improved a lot after playing with such good players because we can learn from them about what we can do and how can we improve," Lalengmawia expressed.
Looking back at his journey so far, the youngster, who hails from Mizoram, stated that all the opportunities and continuous learning have made him a 'better player and person'.
"Many things have changed for me, thanks to playing in the U-17 World Cup, I-League with the Indian Arrows and having exposure trips to foreign countries, where we played with good players. I have achieved many things in terms of experience and we are very lucky to have had these opportunities. They help us in handling pressure and how to play and how to build the team. We have learned many things and it has changed me and made me a better player and a better person," Lalengmawia said.