I just loved Oliver Kahn’s aggression: Phurba Lachenpa on his goalkeeping inspiration

Phurba Lachenpa for Mumbai City FC. Receiving the ISL Golden Glove award from veteran goalkeeper Subrata Paul (Image: ISL)

A RevSportz Exclusive

Phurba Tempa Lachenpa, born in Sikkim, plays as goalkeeper for Mumbai City FC. Started his career in the Shillong Premier League with the youth side of Shillong Lajong FC, Lachenpa was Lajong’s second-choice goalkeeper in the team’s I-League squad. Vishal Kaith, the current Mohun Bagan keeper who was first choice back in 2017, moved to Pune City FC in the ISL, making way for Phurba to take the goalkeeper’s jersey for Shilling Lajong FC. Since then, the 26-year-old goalkeeper has proved his worth wherever he played, and he joined Mumbai City in 2020 after spending a season with Real Kashmir FC.

He was Mumbai’s second-choice goalkeeper behind Amrinder Singh but after the senior keeper left for Bagan, Phurba grabbed the opportunity and proved his worth for the City Group’s team. In the recently concluded ISL season, he was phenomenal throughout, with nine clean sheets winning him the ISL Golden Glove award. He conceded only 17 goals from the 179 shots he faced.

In this exclusive conversation with RevSportz, Lachenpa shared his journey, the experience of playing the ISL final at Yubabharati Krirangan and the competition for the No.1 jersey with the national team.

Phurba has been included in the preparatory camp for the Indian team, training in Bhubaneswar for the all-important FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Kuwait, to be played at the Salt Lake stadium on June 6.

Here are the excerpts.

Q: How do you look back at the ISL Final? How was the atmosphere? Was it an added pressure with so much crowd?

Phurba: Frankly speaking, it was no pressure for me. Growing up as a sport-loving kid, I have seen such huge numbers in the stands, and I have always wanted to play in front of such a huge crowd. So, for us it’s always a motivation playing in front of such a crowd, and for me personally, it’s an added source of motivation. I want to prove myself in such an atmosphere. Whether it’s a home crowd or away crowd, for me it gives me the same motivation to prove myself. The Kolkata crowd was tremendous and it’s a good sign for Indian football that people came in such huge numbers. It was an added motivation for us in the final.

Q: Some insights on your journey. How did football come to you?

Phurba: I was born in a sport-loving family. My two brothers used to play football and cricket. I used to play cricket with them. They used to watch matches on TV, and I saw with them and fell in love with cricket and football. My brothers were my inspiration. They used to win school tournaments and local tournaments and I wanted to do the same. They instilled the love of sports in me, and I chose football because there was not much scope for cricket in the Northeast. The credit for my sports career goes to my brothers.

Q: Why goalkeeper? Was that by choice or it happened accidentally?

Phurba: Yeah, goalkeeper was a choice for me. When I saw Oliver Kahn play in the 2006 World Cup, and [footage of] the Champions League final where he saved three penalties, I just loved the aggression he showed on the pitch. I think that kind of aggression can be shown only by the goalkeepers, and I wanted to experience it for myself. That’s when my love for goalkeeping began.

Q: Great! You won the ISL Golden Gloves, and now you have got the call for the national team camp in Bhubaneswar, where there is so much competition for that one spot. What do you have to say about it?

Phurba: It always feels great to be a part of the national team camp. Last year also, I got the call-up for the camp. It’s always a great honour for me and my family and I try to improve every day. This opportunity gives me a chance to improve myself as a footballer and a person.

Q: Could you please share some thoughts on the competition in the national team? Especially in your position, with experienced goalies like Gurpreet, Amrinder and Vishal?

Phurba: Well, not only goalkeeper, but there is a huge competition for all the positions and there is scope for improvement. This competition helps to improve and you can always learn from them. They are senior goalkeepers with a lot of experience over the years. They have done so well for the team. I always try to give my best and the rest is up to the coach, as to who plays in the team because it depends on his tactics. Whoever fits in his plans will play and I respect that. Personally, I always try to give my best and try to improve whether I play or don’t play. There is no scope of losing hope.

Phurba Lachenpa for MCFC (Image: Phurba Lechanpa Instagram)

Q: I’ll come back to the national team. Before that, I want to know about Petr Kratky and his philosophy in the team. What are the changes he has brought to the team?

Phurba: In the City Group set-up, whoever comes want to play possessional football. When Petr came, what he did good was he looked at what was the best he could do with the squad because he got less time to prepare. He gave us the freedom and made the team believe his philosophy. The change that he brought was the aggression. He wanted the team to press more and he saw the potential in the team. I think he has changed the mentality of the team and it showed in the results. We lost the Shield by a point and won the cup.

Q: Shifting to the national team. What are the differences in the philosophies of both the coaches – Petr Kratky and Igor Stimac?

Phurba: I can’t describe much about the national team because I have not been a part of it for long. For Mumbai, as I said, the aggressive mentality is what I have felt within the team, but I can’t comment on the national team because I have not been a part of it for a long time.

 Q: Now that the ISL is finished for this season, do you think it’ll help to focus well for the national team?

Phurba: Yes! We all are humans and sometimes we need this break. A rest is good for the recovery. Now the seasons are long and it requires a lot of mental focus and physical fitness throughout. But we all are professionals, so we are always ready to give our best for the national team. But yes, this rest is good for recovery.

Q: As you mentioned mental fitness, how important is it and what do you do to keep yourself mentally fit? Who has been your biggest support?

Phurba: Yes, mental fitness is of utmost importance, especially for a goalkeeper where you need to focus a lot. Unless you are mentally fit, you cannot perform and give your best on the field. Family’s support and the management’s support is very important to maintain this mental peace. Everyone in my family, my parents, my brothers, my wife, my sister-in-law and the friends – they have all been tremendous in supporting me. They have given me the freedom to do my job properly and that has helped me to be here today. In European football, they stay with their families, but here we stay mostly away from our families in hotels, and we are always travelling. So, they understand it and they always have my back. They give us the freedom to carry on with what we do and it is very important to perform well.

Q: A word on the Mumbai City fans, management and the reception you received on returning back to the club with the cup?

Phurba: In terms of club facilities and management, I think Mumbai City is one of the best in the country. The professionalism is top notch. The City Group management has done wonders in providing every facility to the players which helps them to grow. As for the celebrations, I personally missed it because I directly went back to my home from Kolkata because I had to see my family and the coach understood it. He allowed the players to go back directly to visit their homes – those who were selected for the national team camp in Bhubaneswar.

Q: What’s your biggest dream that you want to achieve? Who is your idol or inspiration?

Phurba: I want to play 400-plus matches for Mumbai City FC, and I would say my brothers are my biggest inspiration.

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