Mumbai City FC forward Lallianzuala Chhangte is a man reborn. With Mumbai City FC’s attack proving irresistible this Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season, Chhangte has taken the league by storm. 

The Mizoram-born forward has eight goals from 15 Hero ISL appearances this season, a new personal-best record for Chhangte in the Hero ISL. It comes as no surprise that he is the leading Indian goalscorer this season and is just a goal behind teammate Jorge Diaz and East Bengal FC’s Cleiton Silva, who are the league’s joint-top scorers with nine goals each. 

“I have been working really hard since the start of the season. Even during the off season, I have been working really hard. Never had a day off. I think that works well. Without my teammates, I wouldn’t do anything so credit to them as well,” Chhangte said to the in an exclusive interview, when asked about his form this season.

Taking his chances

Chhangte joined Mumbai City FC on loan midway during the Hero ISL 2021-22 season, but joined the Islanders on a permanent deal during the summer, putting pen to paper on a three-year contract. It took Chhangte time to settle into Mumbai City FC’s system under Des Buckingham, but he grew stronger with time.

The forward also impressed in the AFC Champions League, starting all of MCFC’s six group games as they finished second in their group, an unprecedented achievement for an Indian club. It didn’t stop there. The forward finished the Durand Cup 2022 as the top goalscorer with seven goals, ensuring a runners-up finish for the Islanders.   

“Since the takeover of Mumbai City FC by the City Football Group, the playing style has gone to the next level. We want to play from the back and want to attack as well. That suits my style of play. Of course, defending is very important too and I have to come back a lot of times. I have to help the team. But I enjoy what we are doing right now and it’s really important we keep going until the end of the season,” Chhangte mentioned.

Paying off the trust

An attack-minded winger with blistering pace and close-control dribbling, Chhangte has blown hot and cold in front of goal during the previous Hero ISL seasons, but he has been more clinical this campaign. His goalscoring run has seen him overtake Jeje Lalpekhlua as the second highest Indian goalscorer in Hero ISL history and head coach Des Buckingham’s trust in him has proved a decisive factor. 

Besides his eight goals, Chhangte has also racked up four assists this season, taking his goal contributions to 11 this season, setting a new personal record. 

“When you have a coach that trusts you and encourages you to keep on attempting the ball, you have confidence. It’s important that I keep trying even though I have missed a lot of chances. It’s important that I keep trying and trying again, and one day the goals will come, like it has this season,” Chhangte added. 

Mumbai City FC have netted a whopping 45 goals from 15 games this season and have netted 15 goals more than the second-best team, Hyderabad FC. The Islanders are just one goal shy of equalling FC Goa’s record for the most goals scored in a single Hero ISL season.

Chhangte is among the other Indian players who have played a crucial part in Mumbai City FC’s success. The Indian contingent of the Islanders have tallied 20 goals, the most by the Indian contingent of any team this season. 

“He (Buckingham) gives every player an opportunity. I think what makes him different is his style of play. He wants to play from the back and he trusts each and everyone in their own abilities. That makes us confident as players and that gets the best out of us everytime we play. One thing I like about him is he approaches every game with the same mentality and he wants us to do the same. Even if we play against teams from the bottom of the table (in the Hero ISL) or the AFC Champions League, he approaches every game with the same mentality and the same desire to win the game,” Chhangte stated. 

Having struggled to carve a place in the Indian national team set up for over a year, Chhangte will be keen to work his way back into head coach Igor Stimac’s plans, with the Blue Tigers set to play in the AFC Asian Cup this year. The winger was included in the provisional squad for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers, but didn’t make the final cut. 

“Since my back injury, I had my setbacks last season. But what is more important is that if I keep on performing like this, I will get a chance. It’s about proving yourself (in the national team) when you get the opportunity. I hope he (Stimac) is watching our games and following us. But right now, I’m fully focused on what I am doing with teams,” Chhangte stated.

New ‘Invincibles’ of the Hero ISL?  

Mumbai City FC remain the only unbeaten team this season, four points clear of second-placed Hyderabad FC. Not only are they within touching distance for the League Winners’ Shield, but are on the joint-longest unbeaten streak, and the longest winning streak in Hero ISL history. 

“I think it's the work (which has helped us stay unbeaten). Every single player. Not only the players, the coaches, the staff, the masseurs, physios..everyone has been working hard since the start of the pre-season. And that helps. We will continue and it’s about approaching every game with the same mentality. I hope we keep on going like this and get a good result at the end of the season,” Chhangte revealed.  

Questions around Buckingham’s side going unbeaten the entire season have gathered steam in the past few months and Mumbai City FC don’t seem to stop. For Chhangte and Mumbai City FC, who have been on a roll this season, the goal is not far away. 

“It’s possible (to finish the season unbeaten), we will try our best. Let’s see what will happen at the end of the season,” Chhangte concluded.