Baichung Bhutia once described Lalrindika Ralte as a prodigy with skills that cant be taught. Two years back,the then national coach Armando Colaco preferred him over the likes of Steven Dias,Clifford Miranda and Anthony Pereira in the senior squad.
In Ralte,or Dika India had found a new star. Unfortunately Dika failed to live up to the hype. His quick climb was followed a sudden drop. Dika just disappeared. On Tuesday,as East Bengal played Kuwait SC in the AFC Cup semifinals,he resurfaced.
It was refreshing to see him leading a fairly experienced East Bengal side from the front. So where had Dika disappeared? While at a crossroads early in his career,the youngster took a wrong turn and thus got lost. He first made a big-money move from Arrows,where he first got noticed,to Churchill Brothers. Subsequently,he went on to sign another lucrative contract with East Bengal,rumoured to be in the range of Rs 75 lakh.
Regulars on the circuit say that this proved to be his undoing. They still say,Dika swapped the all-important playing time on the field for a hefty paycheque. After joining the star-studded big teams,the youngster became a regular on the bench. Out of sight resulted in him going out of mind. Dika was soon out of the national team reckoning too.
Dikas situation isnt unique. The current state of Indian football is such that there are many other young players like him,showered with money,praise and promise but denied the chance to play.
Think of defender Raju Gaikwad,striker Manandeep Singh (both East Bengal),Joaquim Abranches (ex Dempo,now East Bengal) Jewel Raja (ex Mohun Bagan,now Dempo) and Jeje Lalpekhlua (ex Pune,now Dempo). All these players,including Ralte,were a part of the Indian team at the 2010 Asian Games that entered the pre-quarterfinals. However,their careers have stagnated instead of taking off from there,being restricted to a substitutes role after lured by the big clubs who do not mind splashing the cash.
(Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai)