Winger Redeem Tlang has become a key player for Juan Pedro Benali’s NorthEast United FC side and has elevated his gameplay under the new coach.

Since rejoining the Highlanders for a third spell in his career, Tlang has made significant contributions this season, helping the team redeem themselves after a disappointing 2022-23 campaign, finishing at the bottom of the table.

Clocking 695 minutes, the 29-year-old featured across 17 matches in the Indian Super League (ISL) this season.

In an exclusive interview with NorthEast United FC, Tlang reflected on his journey in football and revealed the player he admires the most.

“It was around 2002, I started to play football with my uncle when they were in college. I used to just follow them to the field. When the ball used to go out of play, they used to ask me to go fetch the ball. I used to pick the ball up and kick it. That's how it started,” Tlang told NorthEast United FC media.

“In the summer of 2002, the finals of the World Cup, Germany vs. Brazil. I had just come back from playing with my friends and my entire family was sitting in the living room watching the game.

“They called me, "Come watch, it's the finals", I had never seen a football game on TV before that. And when I saw the match, I fell in love with Brazil, especially with Ronaldo Nazario and his famous haircut,” he added.

Born in Shillong, Tlang discussed the challenges that aspiring football players faced during his time. He also revealed how he used to sneak out from his parents to play football.

“Those days, there were no academies in Shillong. It was nothing. Parents were also scared because their children might get injured without proper physio and stuff. So that's why it was difficult for the parents to allow us to play. Even my parents as well, when I was young, I just used to sneak out to play,” he said.

The footballer received his first formal footballing lessons at the Meghalaya Football Association, where he learned the basics of the sport and discovered a pathway to his future, setting the foundation for his promising career ahead.

“Meghalaya Football Association (MFA), used to arrange training sessions on Fridays and Saturdays and I was desperate to go there it was the only chance for me to get educated in football.  I am very grateful to them; I've learnt all the basics from them,” said the winger.

Tlang joined his first professional club with Shillong Lajong, where he spent a total of nine years. He rose through the ranks of the club, showing significant growth in the I-League, which eventually paved the way for him to join ISL club NorthEast United FC in 2014.

Despite not receiving much game time initially, Tlang shared the dressing room with legendary footballers whose teachings proved invaluable to him.

“I was playing for Shillong Lajong Academy in 2009 after my class 10. They gave the platform. I was in the club from 2009 to 2018. In 2014, there was a partnership between NorthEast United FC and Shillong Lajong. As a young 19-year-old, I played just five minutes that season and it was huge for me because I was very young to play in the senior team with the likes of Kondwani Mtonga, and Joan Capdevilla. I learnt a lot from all those players involved.

“I moved back to Shillong Lajong and after my contract ended with them I moved back to NorthEast United FC and played for two seasons. After that I moved to FC Goa, before moving to Odisha FC on loan,” he stated.

After stints with FC Goa and Odisha FC, Tlang re-joined the Highlanders ahead of the 2023-24 season. NorthEast United FC showed their determination to climb back into the top half of the table, competing with heavyweight clubs.

To achieve this, they made significant changes to their backend operations and under the guidance of a new Spanish head coach, the club showed notable improvements in the past season. Tlang expressed optimism about the club's future prospects in the upcoming seasons.

“This is my third spell at NorthEast United FC. From what I have seen before and now, the club has improved a lot.  Personally, it has been good (for me) with the new management, Mandar (Tamhane) Sir and his team with all the help from the players, it is a good change for the club.

“I think we are in the right direction with the guidance of our head, Juan Pedro Benali and his team,” Tlang commented.