The big daddy of Mizoram football

Shylo Malsawmtluanga playedfor Delhi Dynamos in the ISL.-SPORTZPICS/ISL

Shylo Malsawmtluanga has inspired the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Lalrindika Ralte to leave the comforts of their home and find a footing in the professional football circuit. The 30-year-old speaks to K. Keerthivasan about his football journey.

Finding brand ambassadors for Indian football is no easy task. Baichung Bhutia for long has been the sole Indian soccer star, a classic example of the game’s strong base in the north-eastern part of the country. Many players from the region followed the Sikkimese player’s path and established themselves in the mainstream of Indian football. Shylo Malsawmtluanga is one such footballer. The players from his native state, Mizoram, now see the 30-year-old as their role model.

Popularly known as ‘Mama’, the pacy winger has inspired the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Lalrindika Ralte to leave the comforts of their home and find a footing in the professional football circuit. Describing Mama’s contribution to football in the state, Lalnghinglova Hmar, Secretary of the Mizoram Football Association, says: “Mama introduced footballers from the State to India. Before him, people used to see football as a hobby in Mizoram, but now it’s a career for a lot of youngsters.”

Mama, after plying his trade for traditional football teams like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Salgaocar, turned out for Delhi Dynamos in the inaugural Indian Super League.

Excerpts from an interview: Question: When did you take up football?

Answer: In Mizoram there’s a lot of passion for football. It has always been a very popular sport in school. All of us play football almost through the year. I started playing when I was six. And there was great support from my family.

Do you remember your first tournament?

Yes, it was the Subroto Cup. I played for Mizoram in New Delhi in 1994.

How has been the journey since then?

There was a trial at the Tata Football Academy (Jamshedpur) in 1998. I attended it and got selected. From 1999-2002, I was there at TFA. Then, I joined East Bengal.

Most of the footballers in India today seem to emerge from the TFA…

The training facilities there are very good. The players are taken care of very well. The teaching is good. Once a year, the team goes to Europe. When I was there, we went to Germany and Italy.

Your first stint (2002-07) with East Bengal was very successful…

Yes, I joined East Bengal in 2002. I had a great time. We won almost everything — the National Football League, Federation Cup, Durand Cup, Kolkata League, the IFA Shield, the Super Cup and the Asean Cup.

I have played for other major clubs too, but in East Bengal the training facilities were better than the rest. The management looked after the players well.

East Bengal had a star-studded line-up then…

I was young then. We had Baichung Bhutia, M. Suresh, Mahesh Ghowli, Deepak Mondal and Sandip Nandy. I learnt a lot from them. I was playing as a right-winger. Even if I made a mistake, the seniors would say: ‘It’s okay! Take it easy. Make sure that you don’t do the same thing the next time.’ That sort of guidance and encouragement helped my growth.

You were the first player from Mizoram to represent a big club outside your State…

Before I joined TFA, nobody from my state came for the trials. No one even tried. Nobody liked to travel outside. I wanted to play football and make a name for myself. Now, young players from Mizoram are stepping out and taking their chances.

Do you think Mizoram football has changed for the better?

Yes, I can see the change at the grassroot level. The Mizoram Premier League has started. The ground facilities are better now. There are two artificial grounds in Aizawl and one each in Lunglei and Champhai. When I stared there was nothing.

How will ISL help football here?

The facilities in the ISL are much better. There’s huge television interest and all this is good for the sport. The quality too has improved. Your game is bound to improve when you are playing with and against world-class players.

You have played only thrice for India. Do you think you should have played more?

It depends on the coach. It depends on his likes and dislikes. But, I think, I should have played more.

What plans for the future?

I would like to play for another 10 years. Coaching is not in my mind right now.