Monday, 1 May 2017

Aizawl FC: From relegation to resurrection to champion

Photo credit: Aizawl FC Facebook page
Aizawl FC dubbed as the people’s club has become immortal in Indian football history on Sunday evening after the draw against Shillong Lajong was enough for Aizawl to seal the I-League title on the last matchday of the 2016/17 season.  They also created history by becoming the first club from the north-east India to win the I-League title.
A club whose budget is just around Rs 2 crore (Mohun Bagan had spend the same amount in buying Sony Norde, a midfielder).
The Leicester moment for the Aizawl team as their fortunes turned around in just a matter of a year as Aizawl FC won their I-League title only in their second year of top-flight football; they were relegated to the second division of Indian football last year, but after a few Goan clubs pulled out of the country's league, they got a lifeline back to stay.
Photo credit: I-League facebook page

Coach Khalid Jamil with the likes of Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City coach) made some smart transfer moves this year by bringing some experience Indian players like Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta from Mumbai FC, and foreign players, Nigerian defender Obunmeme, the Ivory Coast forward Bayi Kamo (Vardy of Aizawl FC) and the Syrian midfielder Al Amnah (Kante of Aizawl FC). These transfers proved to be a smart choice as Bayi Kamo provided the much paced in the game and defy the defender opponent with his smart move and Al Amnah, the engine of Aizawl FC was ever present throughout the match to provide the ball. 
Photo credit: I-League facebook page
Before the match, Aizawl players were protesting after finding out that the title-deciding game would be conducted by officials from Bengal. Aizawl protested because Kolkata side Mohun Bagan was also in title contention and playing a simultaneous match against Chennai. The club said that they have earlier requested the AIFF to appoint neutral match officials from other states.
Aizawl were leading the I-League table with 36 points from 17 matches, three points ahead of second-placed Mohun Bagan before the Sunday's game, and needed at least a draw to clinch their maiden title
During the game, a goal by William Lalnunfela that put the Aizawl team on level terms with Lajong was enough for Aizawl FC to win The Hero I-League 2016-2017. The point meant that Mohun Bagan's 2-1 win was meaningless.
In the making of history for Aizawl FC, Mizoram government was an untold story behind the success, as the government took most of the initiative to create the ecosystem to develop young players. Because of the hilly terrain, Mizoram did not have enough football fields. But the government with its initiative introduced artificial turfs across Mizoram and started organizing local tournaments. With no big sponsors, the money spent by the Government of Mizoram in creating the infrastructure played a huge role in the success of both Mizoram in the Santosh Trophy triumph in 2014 and now in Aizawl’s success in I-League.
Photo credit: Aizawl FC facebook page
Currently Mizoram has 58 players playing in the 10-team national league. Mohan Began player  Jeje, East Bengal’s Lalrindika Ralte, and Robert Lalthlamuana, and Bengaluru FC’s Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Sena Ralte to name a few are some of the Mizo players in I league.
"I am really happy for the players. Aizawl are a great team and they have showed that even without big names you can win championships. They were consistent and have got what they deserve," Sunil Chhetri India football skipper and Bengaluru FC’s star striker was quoted on
"Aizawl will play in the AFC Cup and now they will not represent the Northeast, but the entire country as well, they should be ready for that," Chhetri added.
"Aizawl FC's triumph unfurls a new chapter in Indian football history. This victory will encourage the youth of the country and create a self-belief that on the football pitch, you can pull it off with teamwork. Congratulations," All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel said in a statement to IANS. (With inputs from news agencies)

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