Phurba Lachenpa interview: Have to be mentally strong to play in the Hero ISL

Phurba Lachenpa's career was put under threat much before it took off.

At Shillong Lajong, the young goalkeeper from Sikkim suffered a serious head injury, a kind that could severely hamper any goalkeeper's career. But young Lachenpa came out stronger from the battle and returned between the sticks again.

It was as if the injury made him stronger and in the very first month since returning he won the club's player of the month award.

After a good spell with Shillong Lajong where he became their first-choice goalkeeper, Lachenpa joined Mumbai City FC, a team full of stars looking to win the ultimate prize in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL).

He had to wait for his chance and when it came it came during the Islanders' penalty shootout against FC Goa in the Hero ISL 2020-21 semi-final. Lachenpa shouldered all the pressure and guided his team to victory as Mumbai City FC went on to win the Hero ISL and League Winners' Shield double.

It was only midway through the Hero ISL 2021-22 season that Lachenpa started getting regular minutes in goal for Mumbai City FC, but he hasn't looked back since and established himself as the club's first-choice goalkeeper.

Lachenpa spoke to indiansuperleague.com in an exclusive chat after the game against Odisha FC about his first clean sheet of the new and his journey with Mumbai City FC.

Here are the excerpts:

 You kept the first clean sheet of the season against Odisha FC. How does it feel?

It feels great. It was just our second game of the season and keeping a clean sheet will help us build momentum. The clean sheet will certainly boost our confidence and we will try to work harder and keep more clean sheets in the upcoming match.

Odisha FC had three shots and you saved them all. The save from Diego Mauricio's shot was a really sharp one. How do you feel after these saves?

I am very happy I could make those saves as we could keep the clean sheet. It was important for us at that time to keep the lead and because of that save we could go on and score another goal. This gives me confidence.

You are a very young goalkeeper but you are the No 1 goalkeeper at a club that aims to win every trophy possible and has played in the AFC Champions League. This must come with a lot of pressure. How do you handle it?

There is always pressure at any club be it a big club or a small club. We have to be physically and mentally fit to play in India's top league. We have to be mentally strong and if not we cannot perform on the big stage.

This is your third season with Mumbai City FC. When you joined you must have had the aim to be the club's No 1 goalkeeper. Can you tell us about your journey?

I have been here for three seasons and every year we have had different goalkeeping coaches. They helped me a lot not just to train on the field but also to prepare psychologically. Even the head coaches always believed in my ability to make saves and pass the ball. And if your team and coaches believe in you, you get confidence and you can perform at a higher level.

In the first match against Hyderabad FC, you conceded three goals. Did that motivate you further to keep a clean sheet against Odisha FC?

We want to keep a clean sheet in every match. If we do that and score at the other end, we win the match. I always try to keep a clean sheet and help the team. And if you don't concede goals, it helps the forward line as well.

Do you have any targets for the number of clean sheets you want to keep this Hero ISL season?

I want to keep a clean sheet every game. I want to do that and help the team win the League Winners' Shield and the Hero ISL trophy.

As a young goalkeeper, you must be having ambitions to play for the Indian national team. What do you think you need to do at that level?

I must perform consistently. That's the most important thing. If I perform consistently then only I can get there and have a place in the Indian team.

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