We haven’t heard from Bhogtoram Mawroh in more than a month, but he’s back today with an optimistic take on the way Meghalaya football is going, but reminds us that the real work to develop the sport and the players has only just begun…

Shillong Lajong’s victory in the U-18 Youth League final was the icing on the cake of what has been a good year for Meghalaya football.

The first national trophy after the Second Division League (I-League qualifiers) has been a long time in coming but like they say “it’s better late than never”.

I have to admit that I could not watch all the matches. Lajong’s semifinal is the only one I watched and what I saw gave me great hope for the final as well. Unfortunately, for the final match I was out of town again, but I was always checking TSR for updates.

When the news filtered through that Lajong had won the trophy I excitedly told the other people around, me feeling proud of the accomplishment. What made it sweeter was the fact that, unlike in the past, the team this time around had a lot of local players. And therefore this was not only an achievement for Lajong but for Meghalaya football as well.

Meghalaya football, In fact, has been doing well for the last few years. They won the U-17 Subroto Cup in 2013 and the sub-junior championship in Odisha. There were again close to winning the sub-junior tournament a couple of times in the following seasons. Royal Wahingdoh FC came close to winning the U-15 I-League a few years ago. This year’s edition of the Dr T Ao Trophy was stolen from Meghalaya by some cowardly tactics from the opposition.

As for the senior side, last year the state team had qualified for the second round of the Santosh Trophy but couldn’t make it to the knockout phase, losing to the eventual runners-up. This time around they again had an opportunity to progress to the second round but they slipped up.

Apart from the state team becoming a more consistent side in national tournaments, what is most heartening to see is that many local players are moving out in search of opportunities to further their careers.

I had previously maintained that Lajong are not enough to do justice to the talent that exists in the state. The solution is to have more teams from Meghalaya playing in the I-League or players playing for teams outside the state. The few teams that I know with players from Meghalaya in their squad are Delhi United, Madhya Bharat FC, Kerala Blasters, FC Pune City, ATK, Mumbai City FC, DSK Shivajains, Bengaluru FC and NorthEast United. In time the number will only increase.

In the previous few years Shillong-based clubs have also done well on the national stage. Teams like Rangdajied United and Royal Wahingdoh played brilliantly in the I-League and were never relegated. The reasons for their non-participation in the championship in following years were that while the former couldn’t fulfill the criteria demanded by All India Football Federation, the latter decided to wind up operations because they felt it wasn’t financially viable. But because there weren’t many local players who got the opportunity when these two teams were around I really don’t miss them much.

It was for this reason that I had great hopes for Langsning, who decided to give opportunities to local players to help them win qualification for the I-League. From what I saw it was only inexperience and a lack of clinical finishing that let Langsning down. They kept waiting for the Brazilian striker who never came while the replacements were not good enough. That miss by Kento Shakurai is still haunting me. Donlad Diengdoh is a hardworking striker but he is not prolific. Langsning should have also signed Samson Nongrum, who has been a regular goal scorer in the Shillong Premier League. But in spite of lacking a genuine goal scorer Langsning were the best team from their group, putting in dominating performances in all the matches that I watched. If they had taken all their chances they would have been competing in the final round at the moment. I hope they try again next year. With invaluable experience gained from this campaign I am absolutely certain that they will qualify for the I-League next season.

As for the local football scene, I remember a few years ago that there was a rule that only local players will be allowed to compete in the then U-19 Shillong Premier League. However that was changed, which limited the scope of local players and relegated them to the bench where they remained for the whole season. It was a matter of great shame and embarrassment when there were no local players in the line-up of some prominent teams during SPL matches.

It seemed to me that we were not in Meghalaya anymore but in some foreign land. In the I-League the trend continued, whether it was Wahingdoh, Rangdajied or Lajong. One can somehow forgive the first two because they never had the chance to establish themselves and bring in local talent. But it was inexcusable for Lajong, who boasted of a strong youth set-up but chose to continuously ignore local talents.

This is the reason why there are no players from the state in the Indian national team. At least someone like Kynsailang Khongsit, who when the Indian Arrows came to Shillong had the opposition attacker in his pocket the whole time, should have got the chance to play for the national team. Watching local players sidelined was very painful all this while.

This year, though, things changed and there were a good number of local players who got the opportunity to showcase their talent. The results that followed were also highly impressive. Langsning performed admirably in the Second Division League with Kitboklang Pale and Brolington Warlapih being the most impressive players. In the I-League Lajong finished in the top six, thus gaining direct qualification for the Super Cup where they defeated FC Pune City, who for me were one of the best-coached sides. The loss to Mohan Bagan was unfortunate because Lajong had a really good chance to make it to the final. Wrong team selection and poor tactics were the reasons for the loss. Hardycliff Nongbri not being part of the squad was a big blow.

And now finally we have the U-18 triumph, which was made sweeter by the fact that it happened on home soil. It was also a great relief for Bobby Nongbet, who had come so close on multiple occasions and will finally have a trophy to show for his hard work of many years.

I hope that he can unearth more local talent in the years to come. Although the last few seasons have been quite good, the real work has actually just begun. There are some local players who are playing in the Indian junior team but we need more such players and at all age levels. In the meantime, clubs from Meghalaya need to give more opportunities to local players to showcase their talent. Football is growing in the country. We have been left behind in the past not because of lack of talent but because of the ineptitude of those in charge of the game in the state.

Things are looking better now but it is very important that we make sure local players are never sidelined like was done in the past. If that happens it’s better to watch shnong football than go to the stadiums and waste our time, money and energy. I have great hope for the future and I wish Meghalaya football all the best for more success. Cheers!

(TSR photo)

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