Shillong, May 28: He’s been instrumental in getting the best out of club and state teams and now coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet has what he describes as the “sweetest of all” – the U-18 Youth League title that Shillong Lajong FC won by beating Kerala Blasters 2-0 on Saturday.

“It’s overwhelming to witness what Shillong Lajong have achieved. Truly incredible. National champions of the U-18s is a wonderful tag to be carrying. It’s a historical win. Shillong Lajong have been waiting for a long time for this and this time they have done it. That too undefeated and with the best statistics ever,” Nongbet said after the weekend triumph. (We wish we could have found a photo in our archive of him smiling to fit this happy story, but there wasn’t any.)

An AFC A Licence coach with a youth coaching diploma to boot, Nongbet is widely regarded as one of the best youth coaches in Meghalaya.

He joined Lajong in 2005 and during his first stint at the club SLFC went on to to win several Meghalaya Football Players Association age-level tournaments with a crop of players who are household names today – think Samuel Shadap, Redeem Tlang, Rupert Nongrum and Aiban Dohling, to name a few.

Lajong would go on to win the India-level Manchester United Premier Cup in 2010 and progressed to the world finals where Nongbet’s charges would play teams like Paris St Germain and Newcastle United in the UK, which was a huge experience. The following year Lajong won the first-ever U-19 Shillong Premier League under his tutelage and came third in the U-20 I-League.

Nongbet then split with the club, however, in the 2012-13 season after “things could not work out” with then-coach Desmond Bulpin.

Bulpin didn’t last long at Lajong, but though he was sacked midway through that year Nongbet had already been snapped up by the erstwhile Royal Wahingdoh FC, for whom he shook up their approach to youth development.

In time, under his leadership, RWFC became dominant in local U-14, U-15 and U-18 competitions and Royal Wahingdoh ultimately finished as runners-up in U-15 I-League 2015-16, losing 4-3 on penalties to Minerva Punjab in Goa. In that team were players like Phrangki Buam and Freestar Kharbangar, who are now part of the Lajong squad that won the U-18 title on Saturday.

In mid-2017 Nongbet quit RWFC and rejoined Lajong (a few months later the Royals would be absorbed by Shillong United FC).

During the same time he worked towards getting Meghalaya competitive at the state level, being a government employee as well. The state’s youth teams would go on to finish second at the Sub-Junior National football tournament in late 2017 as well as the year before that. Meghalaya’s team at the Subroto Cup U-17 boys’ tournament couldn’t win the title, but did manage to bring home the Fair Play award. The state also bagged third place in the regional Dr T Ao Memorial U-21 Football Tournament in February this year.

For the 2017-18 season Nongbet was named by Lajong as their coach for the I-League season. Having the necessary AFC A-License made him the obvious choice, but we rarely saw him after the first few matches, with his nominal assistant, Alison Kharsyntiew, taking over the reins.

Nevertheless he’s had plenty of accomplishments under his belt, but the U-18 Youth League title “is the sweetest of all.” He was quick to pay tribute to fellow coaching and support staff like Aiboklang Kharpran, Milan Nongkhlaw, Vicky Syiem and Lucky Kharmalki, without whose support the title “would not have been possible.”

In conclusion Nongbet said, “Success at the youth level is not necessary, but development is. With proper coaching and guidance players’ development will lead to success in time,” while adding that coaches’ education is vital in achieving this as “better coaches bring about better players.”

(TSR photo)

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