Could Lalrinzuala be Indian football’s next shooting star?

Photo Credit : Aizwal FC

Scoring 15 goals and providing three assists in the I-League is no small feat. Sunil Chhetri and Mohammed Rafi came close, managing to score 14 goals in 23 appearances. However, Lalrinzuala Lalbiaknia, one of the poster boys of Indian football, has surpassed them both, taking his goal tally to 15 in just 18 appearances in his debut season.

Hailing from the Serchhip District of Mizoram, Lalrinzuala’s goal-scoring prowess in the ongoing I-League has ensured that Aizawl FC maintain their place in the I-League, despite some very ordinary performance. The 23-year-old remains hopeful that he can make the most of their remaining games. “I think it is what it is now,” Lalrinzuala told RevSportz, of his team currently sitting in ninth place. “We can’t control it anymore. But in the remaining matches, we will strive to win all of them.”

In Mizoram, a love for football runs deep in the blood of the people. The same was true for Lalrinzuala, who grew up playing football in the streets. Though his parents couldn’t afford to buy him proper boots, they fully supported his decision to pursue football as a career. “When we were boys, we played football in the streets as much as we could,” he said, looking back to his childhood. “That’s how I fell in love with the sport. My mom and dad worked tirelessly to buy boots for me. When I was 12 or 13, they couldn’t afford proper boots, but they supported me as best as they could. All I ever wanted was to be a footballer. They never pushed me to study or pursue anything else.”

Photo Credit : Aizwal FC

While Lalrinzuala’s favorite footballers have been Cristiano Ronaldo and Chhetri, his true inspiration has always been Shylo Malsawmtluanga, a trailblazer for Mizo footballers. Shylo, popularly known as Mama in Mizoram, was the first Mizo footballer to play for professional clubs outside Mizoram and represent the national team. “He influenced me greatly,” said Lalrinzuala. “Every Mizo player dreams of emulating Mama if they play in the I-League or professional clubs.”

Lalrinzuala once had the opportunity to train with Chhetri at Bengaluru FC, where he began his professional career in the youth team. However, the Mizo forward was too shy to approach him. “I had the chance to train with him once, but I was too shy to meet him.”

After spending two years in Bengaluru, Lalrinzuala joined Gokulam Kerala, and then moved back to Chhinga Venga FC in Mizoram. He was also part of the Delhi FC side that won the I-League 2nd Division, before returning to Mizoram to play for Aizawl FC.

With his stellar performances at Aizawl FC, Lalrinzuala has attracted lucrative offers from ISL clubs. Now, the pressure and expectation are high after his achievements in his debut season. However, Lalrinzuala, whose ultimate dream is to play for the national team, remains focused on his game and is not thinking about anything beyond Aizawl FC at the moment. “I still have one year left with Aizawl FC,” he said. “For now, I want to focus solely on football.”

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Photo Credit : Aizwal FC

Lalrinzuala’s professional career has had its share of challenges. First, his father, who was a driver, passed away, causing immense hardship for him and his family. Lalrinzuala added his father’s name, Lalbiaknia, to his last name as a tribute. Additionally, he had to undergo knee and back surgeries, which sidelined him for a significant period. Nevertheless, Lalrinzuala has shown unwavering determination in overcoming these setbacks. “It’s all about luck,” he said. “I work as hard as I can. I also engage in extra training.”

Despite his outstanding performances, Lalrinzuala was not selected in either the U-23 side, for friendlies against Malaysia, or the senior team that played twice against Afghanistan. However, the Mizo forward remains patient and trusts his process, refraining from blaming anyone for his non-selection. Instead, he states, “It’s up to the coach.” He also believes that there isn’t much difference in standards between the two leagues, concluding the conversation with a bold statement – “I think there’s not much difference between the I-League and ISL.”

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