‘Topscoring Indian from open play’ – Chennaiyin FC’s Lallianzuala Chhangte is flying high

The Mizoram-born winger has had a fantastic season on a personal level and is now focused on delivering the ISL trophy for his side…

It’s been a defining season of sorts for Chennaiyin FC’s young winger Lallianzuala Chhangte. The 22-year-old has been a crucial element in Owen Coyle’s swashbuckling side that has defied all predictions and form charts to storm into the Indian Super League (ISL) final.

Incidentally, Chhangte has scored seven goals this season, including one in either leg of Chennaiyin’s play-off tie against FC Goa. The tally makes him the highest scoring Indian player from open play in the ISL this year. Bengaluru FC’s Sunil Chhetri has nine goals to his credit but three of them were penalties.

Chhangte burst on to the Indian football scene with wonderful long ranger against Nepal in the 2015 SAFF Cup. It saw him become the second youngest goalscorer ever for the Blue Tigers at a tender age of 18 and naturally there was a lot of interest in the diminutive attacker. But it never really translated into something tangible.

Despite showing his obvious talent in spurts for the likes of DSK Shivajians, NorthEast United and Delhi Dynamos, Chhangte never really enjoyed what you would call a ‘breakthrough season’ until this time around.

“You know there is one more game to play. Taking that aside I think I’m having a really good season by the grace of God. But there’s a lot of space to improve and I will work on that. I enjoyed every training session and matches I played for Chennaiyin FC,” Chhangte told Goal.

This landmark season has come right after a personal disappointment for the Mizoram-born player. Chhangte had travelled to Norway for extended trials with Viking FK. However, the club opted not to sign him and he decided to join Chennaiyin FC – a move that has helped establish himself as one of the best forwards in India.

“When I knew it wasn’t working out there (Viking FK), I was disappointed and sad but I took it as a sign from God to make me stronger, to give me more motivation and desire to work more harder, which is evident now in the ISL,” Chhangte remarked.

“After it didn’t work out in Norway, Chennaiyin FC showed the most interest in me. They told me how much they wanted me in the team which made me feel safe and secured. And I feel this is the right club to develop further in my career. I’m glad I signed here and I think I made the right choice,” he added.

It has not been all rosy for Chhangte this season. His pace and trickery in the final third saw him earn rave reviews from current Chennaiyin FC manager Owen Coyle and his predecessor John Gregory. But a tendency to make poor decisions after getting into promising positions inside the penalty box continued to frustrate his managers, especially at the start of the season.

In fact, Chhangte was guilty of wasting a fair few chances in the four-game goalless run Chennaiyin endured at the start of the season. But with just one match remaining in the campaign, Chhangte’s fortunes in the attacking third have grown exponentially, which has also contributed to the team’s goal-glut under Coyle.

“You know as a footballer and especially when you are an attacker, your main job is to score and assist and help your team to win games. There will always be questions and critics. We can’t help it and we have to live with that but that never stops me. Everytime I step on to the pitch, I give my best all the time and that is more than enough; the rest is up to God!

“Some things don’t work out. If you have the will to try again and again and again, you’ll get there. That’s what I do and that works well right now by the grace of God,” says Chhangte.

Chhangte (Chennaiyin FC) v Mumbai City

While scoring crucial goals is a trait he has picked up as the season progressed, beating defenders was never a problem for him. Both Coyle and Gregory had repeatedly praised Chhangte’s pace and ability to get past his marker with ease. The confidence the support staff has shown in him despite his initial struggles has also worked wonders, feels the youngster.

“Definitely yes! Since the start of the season they have trust in me! They kept helping me not only on the training pitch but also outside the pitch. When you have a coach who trusts you and gives you confidence, you want to give that extra bit of effort. It is a privilege and honour to work with them everyday,” he said.

Though his trial with Viking FK did not go according to plan, Chhangte still harbours European ambitions. However, for now, he is only focused on Chennaiyin FC and the ISL final against ATK later this week.

“Definitely yes, if the opportunity comes I will grab it with both hands but now I’m in one of the best clubs in India. I’m happy, my family are happy and I’m looking forward to help the team winning more trophies, hopefully starting this Saturday!”

On form, Chhangte is one of the best attacking players in the country and is well and truly deserving of the moniker – the highest-scoring Indian from open play this season.