Extra Time with Leeza Mangaldas: The Rise of Lallianzuala Chhangte

Follow pitch-side reporter Leeza Mangaldas as she takes you behind the scenes this Hero ISL season. New posts every week exclusively on indiansuperleague.com. Connect with Leeza on Instagram or Twitter at @leezamangaldas. 

When I requested an interview with Delhi Dynamos’ 21-year-old winger Lallianzuala Chhangte, instead of the phone conversation that many players prefer because it saves them the hassle of having to write a lot of stuff down, he asked to be able to send his answers in via email. This is Chhangte. One might think it’s because he seems shy and reserved, but that would be an underestimation. It’s because he likes to do things carefully, he likes to think things through, and he likes to be in control.

I received an email promptly within my requested deadline, with detailed, perfectly punctuated responses. (If you’ve ever been a sports journalist, you know what a rare pleasure this is). And in it, I learned that his father was a teacher, and that education was a big priority in his household. I also learned that his ‘grandpa’ bought him his first pair of football boots, and that his mother once even sold some of her clothes to buy him new boots. I learned that he is grounded by a profound sense of faith, and that his proudest moments have been his minutes playing for India.

Chhangte with his mother and little cousin

There were two qualities that came through to me in everything that he wrote: self-belief and gratitude. Chhangte is the sort of player who is genuinely grateful for every opportunity that comes his way and he is determined to make the most of them, as we have consistently seen over his past two seasons with Delhi Dynamos.

Unfortunately, both years, the team has taken most of the season to find its groove — but in a squad without many major senior stars, a young, fleet-footed Chhangte has had the opportunity to make a big impact from the start. Even though the Dynamos were winless in their first eleven games this season, he’s been the silver lining to their cloud: a player who isn’t just skilful, but inspirational, motivated and focused no matter what.

Chhangte grew up in Lunglei, Mizoram and has played football ever since he was in first grade. His grandfather was especially fond of the game, and the family would often watch matches together. “My brother and I would play a game even if there were no friends to play with,” Chhangte recalled. “We would play; just the two of us. And we were pretty evenly matched.” (His brother, CVL Remtluanga, who is fondly called Junior Chhangte, now plays for the Dynamos’ U-18 team).

“But as a kid, considering my size and physique, my parents didn't think I would play football as a profession — they thought it would just be a childhood hobby. But my grandpa — he knew I had what it takes,” Chhangte shared.

A photo of Chhangte’s incredible abs from his Instagram handle @lzchhangte

Speaking of his physique, one look at his Instagram and you’ll know that he takes his fitness very seriously. “It’s really important to take care of yourself, eat the right food, and maintain your fitness all the time — even when you have a day off. For me those little things really matter — and it helps me perform better on the field. Being fit can really improve the quality of your life,” he said, crediting his commitment to fitness for the energy and blistering pace that he brings to every game.

Even as a very young boy, his parents saw just how determined he was to play football, and with some nudging from his grandfather, they began to nurture and support his dream of playing professionally.  “I started off by playing for my village team, then got selected for my district — then, in 2009, I joined a training program called 'Catch Them Young' led by Mr. Muankima, a coach at the forefront of Mizoram’s football ecosystem,” he shared. “That was a turning point for me — Mr. Muankima became a very important mentor to me. I was fortunate to represent Mizoram in the Subroto Cup in 2012, and then I was chosen to play for Lunglei FC for Mizoram Premier League.”

In 2014, while Chhangte was still in his 10th grade, he was picked up by DSK Shivajian’s Liverpool Academy, and it’s been a whirlwind of progress ever since. “After two years, we played really well in the U-19 I-League. Then I was selected to play for India U-23 and after that, for the senior national team. To represent my country at the age of 18 was a dream come true,” he said.

Chhangte at North East United in Season 3

Next, Chhangte joined NorthEast United — it was his first stint with the first team of a professional club. “After Hero ISL Season 3, I played for DSK Shivajians in the I-league, and finally last season I signed with Delhi Dynamos,” he explained.

In March 2016, before his move to NorthEast United, Chhangte trained at the Liverpool youth academy at Kirkby along with his then team-mate Jerry Mawihminthanga. “It was an amazing experience even though it was a short period of time,” Chhangte recalled.

"We got to witness the professionalism of a club at the highest level — the work they put in both on and off the field was massive. They were extremely physical, they had no problem with left or right foot, and the training was incredibly intense — perhaps the most vital thing I learned was the importance of anticipating what to do next, or where to pass, before even getting the ball.”

Chhangte and Jerry with Phillipe Coutinho and James Milner

While he didn’t get much game time at NorthEast United, in his two seasons at Delhi Dynamos Chhangte certainly come into his own. When I asked what he regards as his best performance this season, he shared that it was when the Dynamos played host to the Kerala Blasters. Delhi won 2-0 and Chhangte was named the Hero of the match. “It was one of those games where everything came together really well — as a team we managed to execute everything we had learned and worked on in training,” he said.

Chhangte with former North East United and current Kerala Blasters coach Nelo Vingada at Delhi’s home game against Kerala

“From the time I started playing for Delhi, I think I’ve shown tremendous improvement,” Chhangte reflected. “Having a coach who trusted in me and gave me opportunities in every game has helped me gain a lot of confidence. I'm so grateful that I get to make an important contribution here and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my team-mates and the coaches.”

Chhangte recently attended a trial at Norwegian first division side Vikings FK. It was a very brief stint given that he also had to return home to his Hero ISL commitments. But he believes it was valuable exposure and having a European club show interest in him, it was another step forward for the youngster.

Chhangte’s emphasis on humility, gratitude, and a can-do mentality is rooted in his faith, which he regards as the cornerstone of his approach to life. “My belief in God has seen me through everything,” he shared. “I know I've got a lot to learn and miles to go from here. But only thing I know is that I’ll never give up.”

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