2017’s top 10 — Aizawl FC: The club that slayed the Goliaths

A first trophy triumph for a team from the region sparked off major celebrations in the highlands, giving the waning charm of I-League a big boost.

Magic moment: Aizawl FC surprised the football pundits and fans alike when it captured the I-League crown.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Aizawl FC became the champion club of India, lifting the I-League title with convincing performances through the season. North-East, which has produced a huge number of international players recently, had not been able to translate this advantage when it came to winning tournaments at the club level.

After making a forgettable appearance in its first season in the I-League (where it finished eighth and was to be relegated), Aizawl FC had a new lease of life when the All India Football Federation decided to reinstate it. The Federation was forced to do so after two clubs from Goa pulled out.

Invigorated by the new development, the pride of Aizawl (the Mizoram capital) sought to recast the side by roping in Khalid Jamil as the head coach. The 40-year-old, who moved in from Mumbai FC, set about in quest of the right recipe for success. Jamil created an energetic squad, bringing in experienced players from his former club, while providing a platform to a group of young, talented youngsters. The selection of foreigners also fitted the bill as Aizawl set the pace from the initial rounds.

The team scripted one of the most enchanting stories of football triumph as it got the better of traditional giants like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and a corporate-backed club like Bengaluru FC. A first trophy triumph for a team from the region sparked off major celebrations in the highlands, giving the waning charm of I-League a big boost.

The laurels

I-League

Champion

Federation Cup

Semifinals

Mizoram Premier League

Semifinals

 

Robert Romawia Royte: We want to build a team and not buy one

Robert Romawia Royte, the passionate owner of the club, has quietly worked behind the scene to establish the team from North-East in the Indian football mainstream.

How is Aizwal different from other clubs?

Aizawl FC is different from other football clubs in the country as it is set on a ‘futuristic’ philosophy. We invest more on youth development and improving the infrastructure than buying expensive players for the senior team. It is very unfortunate that most clubs in India buy older players, thereby wasting the investment.

What’s your primary area of focus?

We have focused on building a team and not buying a team. We want to create our own talent pool, bring players from the age-group teams. If you go by our records, Aizawl FC is always doing well in the junior and youth tournaments. The success in the I-League is the direct result of this initiative to promote the talent within.

What were the main reasons behind the team’s unexpected success?

We have earned our place in Indian football. I had made a public announcement that Aizawl FC will come back strongly after the All India Football Federation listened to our appeal and reinstated us in the elite division. There was no reason for us to be relegated (in season 2015-2016) as we finished second from bottom. The last team (DSK Shivajians) enjoyed immunity. We did meticulous planning and blended our talents from the academy with some professionals, picked by our coach (Khalid Jamil). The chemistry worked well and we deserved our moment of glory. Hard work always pays and we never looked for any shortcut in our quest to win. It was a team effort and every member of the playing squad, support staff, fans played their role to perfection.