With the restart of the domestic season weeks away, The Indian Express looks into the up-and-coming stars of tomorrow in ‘India’s New Hopes’.
Making a club debut in the country’s most historic derby match can be quite nerve-wracking, and that’s exactly what Edmund Lalrindika felt when he stepped out on the pitch of the Salt Lake Stadium in the red-and-yellow colours back in January.
“My heart stopped for a minute, you know? Fifty thousand fans… I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Lalrindika tells indianexpress.com over phone. “The atmosphere was crazy. I had never witnessed anything like that before. But the coach [Alejandro Menendez] told me what he needed me to do, and I tried to focus on that.”
And focus he did. For a scrawny novice who had less than 200 senior professional minutes under his belt before that day, the then-20-year-old handled himself quite well during his 14-minute cameo against Mohun Bagan. From gesturing to the crowd to rally behind the team within a minute of coming on to providing an assist to Marcos Jimenez de la Espada to give East Bengal their first — and only — goal of the match, the Mizoram-born forward had an immediate impact. East Bengal eventually lost 2-1 to the eventual champions, but Lalrindika had arrived.
However, he came down to earth soon. He suffered an injury on his debut itself, derailing the rest of his loan spell from Bengaluru FC. “The injury hit my confidence hard, more so because it came during my debut after I had given an assist. But despite that, I will never forget that experience of playing in the derby,” he says with a smile.
Keen, confident, and possessing an ardent attitude, Lalrindika oozes optimism both on and off the field. After signing for Bengaluru FC in 2017 from the AIFF Elite Academy, he went on a loan deal to Indian Arrows in the I-League. He fractured his ankle during that stint but sprung back from that inconvenience to make seven appearances for Bengaluru FC in their title-winning 2018/19 season.
Lalrindika then turned out for the developmental side of The Blues last season, finishing as the top scorer in the BDFA Super Division League. In January this year, with playing time hard to come by in Bengaluru, Lalrindika embraced a new adventure, moving back to the I-League with traditional powerhouse East Bengal.
“The past year has been such a lesson for me. I played under brilliant coaches and with talented players in both Bengaluru FC and East Bengal, and now with that experience, I want to move forward to the next season. I know I can break into the senior team soon… but until then, I will continue working hard and will keep believing in myself,” says Lalrindika.
Lalrindika’s conviction in his journey stems from the determination he has had since childhood. Without it, he wouldn’t ever have been able to reach the top domestic echelons starting from his small village in Mizoram — Lunglei — which is 170 kilometres from the state capital Aizawl.
Having first kicked a ball at a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in his village, Lalrindika was noticed by the Lunglei District Football Association in 2008. From there, he was selected to be a part of the first-ever Mizoram U12 team. His journey then took him to Kolkata, where he was selected in the AIFF Regional Academy, and then, to Margao, to get admitted into the AIFF Elite Academy.
“Whatever little I have succeeded so far, I owe it to AIFF. I got training, guidance, and even friends from the academy. I have had Suresh [Singh Wangjam] and Prabhsukhan [Singh Gill] by my side for years now,” says Lalrindika. “Under my academy coaches, I worked on my style of play and continued working on it during my time at Indian Arrows, where I was played out of position as a striker in the 2017/18 season.”
With the exuberance that characterizes Lalrindika’s style of play and also his personality, he says, “Scoring goals is a great feeling, but I like sticking to the sidelines a lot. Just like [Cristiano] Ronaldo or [Wilfried] Zaha. I am more effective down the flanks as I have more confidence in running through defences and creating chances with my skills and pace.”
Congratulations @chetrisunil11 bhai. I feel very lucky to share the dressing room and play along with you. You have always been an inspiration for me and I really want to thank you for pushing me to do better. Wish you all the luck bhai more years to come.#15YearsOfSunilChhetri pic.twitter.com/0Ku0Zsa3I8
— Edmund Lalrindika (@edmund_ed7) June 12, 2020
Lalrindika still pinches himself at the fact that he has shared the same dressing room as Sunil Chhetri, the talismanic captain of The Blues. “Without any doubt, Sunil-bhai is the most professional player I have ever seen. He comes in, he works hard, and even though he is quite serious during training… if you ever approach him, he will make sure to take some time out to help you,” says the wide forward.
“The same goes for Dika [Lalrindika Ralte] too — he made me feel right at home after I joined East Bengal. To have a fellow villager as my captain helped me a lot.”
At home in Lunglei since the lockdown, Lalrindika says he has now temporarily resettled into the quaint life he once knew. Living with his family of five, he has been relying on cycling and helping his father in his steel fabrication shop every once in a while to maintain his fitness.
“I am keeping myself fit with my own weights, but I hope to return to the training ground and the gym as soon as possible. I also want to continue my unbeaten record in FIFA in the Bengaluru camp… Sunil-bhai, Gurpreet-paaji, Khabra-bhai, I have defeated them all,” he continues with a hearty laugh.
“On the field, they can teach me a lesson or two, but never with the joypad.”
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