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Scoring the right goals

Hitting the right mark Eugeneson Lyngdoh Photo: K. Murali Kumar  

Eugeneson Lyngdoh is reflecting on his aborted Bachelor of Engineering course with some amusement.

“The first two years are easy, man,” he grins. “You think, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ And then the backlogs start piling up. Then you lose a year. And then you don’t want to do it anymore.”

Eight years ago, Lyngdoh abandoned his pursuit of a degree in Electronics and Telecommunication engineering in Pune, and flew home to Shillong to play professional football. He turned out for Ar Hima (later renamed Rangdajied United) in the second division, where his father was president, before I-League club Shillong Lajong signed him up.

“When I quit engineering in the third year, my parents and my brothers and sisters weren’t happy,” Lyngdoh says. “Everyone wants you to study. All anyone asked me was when I was going to finish my studies. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I couldn’t. The moment Lajong came calling, and I got to play in the I-League, it just changed; the scene just changed. Then I came here and all this happened. Now they understand. They are very happy for me. It is something I was good at; it is making me happy and I am doing it for a living. At that point when you are deciding, when you want to do something you love and your parents and your family want you to do something else, everyone faces that... it is hard.”

These may well be scenes from another life. Lyngdoh is arguably India's finest midfielder today.

He is on the brink of making history with Bengaluru FC, going where no Indian club has gone before. Last year, he won the AIFF (All India Football Federation) and the FPAI (Football Players' Association of India) Player of the Year awards. And then there was the small matter last summer of Pune FC paying Rs.1.05 crore for his services in the Indian Super League.

“These last two years have been like a dream,” he says of his time with Bengaluru FC, whom he joined in 2014 from Lajong. “In my first year here, I got called up for the national team. Then we won the Federation Cup. In my second year, we won the I-League. And then there was the SAFF Cup with India.”

His life has changed unrecognisably since his move here. “After I came to Bengaluru, I started believing in myself more. I understood the game better. I have matured in the way I think about games and approach games. Earlier, I would approach games like a kid: a lot of tension and not knowing what to do. But at BFC I have become very professional. Back in Shillong, as players, we just came to the training ground. After that we never knew the right stuff to eat, the right stuff to do. Here, everything seems to be in place.”

Lyngdoh is sitting in the shade after an intense morning’s training at the Bangalore Football Stadium.

He is smiling. At the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday, Bengaluru FC will face Malaysia’s Johor FC in the second leg of the semifinals of the AFC Cup. BFC drew the first leg 1-1 in Johor, Lyngdoh scoring the equalizer with a fierce strike from distance. It gives the home side a rather good chance of advancing to the final, something no Indian team has ever managed.

“Making it to the semis was a milestone. Now we feel we can get to the final. It is something no Indian club or player has ever done. Obviously, there is a lot of talk about Indian football. As a club, in three years we are here. On the brink of making history. It is a huge achievement.”

Lyngdoh is 30 now, having exploded on the scene two years ago. Coaches have hailed his vision and intelligence in midfield as qualities that set him apart from his peers.

“Maybe it is a God-gifted talent,” he says. “I don’t know if education is also a part of it. Life could be a part of it, just being aware of things happening around you.” Pleasing as his rapid development at BFC has been, there is also the sense that Lyngdoh is making up for lost time. That his best years have come at this age makes us desperately wonder why he could not have emerged a decade ago. “I wish I had joined professional football at a younger age,” he sighs.

“After Class 10, your parents tell you to choose a stream and you do it. That was my life, pretty much. Even though my dad was running a football club back home in Shillong, he was doing it to give an opportunity to kids. It was more of an amateur thing. But I don't blame anyone. Life took its course. And here I am now.”

Lyngdoh chuckles at the suggestion that his failure to get to grips with engineering was a good thing for Indian football. “I was ignorant of the fact that if I failed in football, I would be nowhere, because I hadn’t finished my studies,” he says. “But I was adamant that I would do well, so I just kept going. I didn’t think twice about quitting engineering. I never thought, ‘What if it is the wrong decision?’ When I was on the football pitch, I was completely away from all the tension of my life. I was free in thought. I liked that feeling.”

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 12:41:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Scoring-the-right-goals/article16072141.ece

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