Ralte relishing BFC ‘challenge’

The former Aizawl FC defender now targets clinching the ISL trophy with Bengaluru FC.

Zohmingliana Ralte... “It was a challenge I wanted to take up.”   -  K. Murali Kumar

One of the standout moments from the 2016-17 I-League season was Zohmingliana ‘Zotea’ Ralte, running with his arms outstretched towards a rapturous set of Aizawl FC fans on a rain-soaked April afternoon at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in the Mizoram capital.

The 26-year-old was like a messiah as he headed in the lone goal against Mohun Bagan, seven minutes from time, in the penultimate match of the league to ensure that his side had one hand on the trophy. Aizawl lifted the whole of it a week later to script one of the best stories ever written in Indian football history.

But much has happened since April. Like with most teams which enjoy unheralded success, Aizawl too splintered with its coach and top players all moving to bigger clubs. Zotea himself was picked up by Bengaluru FC (BFC) at the Indian Super League (ISL) player draft.

‘Happy’

“Fans wanted me to stay,” he said here on Sunday. “The president and the manager too. But I told them ‘I am looking to play the ISL and improve further.’ It was a challenge I wanted to take up. I am very happy to have joined BFC. The coaching staff and everyone is great here and things are very structured. My family is also happy.”

When at Aizawl, Zotea was a defensive rock. He started all 18 of the club’s matches and didn't miss a single minute. For a centre-back to have been booked only twice all season was another feather in the cap. At BFC he may not start every match. But it is a task he is very much up for. “I want to fight for a place,” he said. “The competition is very strong. There are a few differences because I played as part of a four-man defence and here we sometimes play three at the back also. It’s a bit difficult for me at times but I am adjusting to it.”

Pursuing improvement

“There is Sunil Chhetri... He is so experienced. I see those players working so hard and I too want to do that. I also want to improve. The training camp in Spain was very good. My fitness has improved after coming here. So has my touch. Last year I won the I-League, this year I want to be ISL champion.”

A chance to impress might present itself soon with the first leg of the AFC Cup inter-zonal play-off semifinal against April 25 Sports Club looming and first-choice defender John Johnson absent. If things go well, it will now be the turn of those scores of BFC fans to embrace him.