A helpless bud in a dying plant is how Lallianzuala Chhangte could be described when he played under John Gregory.
At the start of the season, Chennaiyin FC played a dismal brand of football which had repelled fans the previous season. Consecutive loses and faltering form of key signings was enough to make everyone lose hope in that side. Chhangte was one of those high-profile signing which was starting to look gloomy for Chennaiyin.
A certain gentleman from Scotland had some other plans, though.
How Coyle sized up the existing options and made a killer team out of a side which was written off early on has been very well documented already.
One striking difference between Chennaiyin and most of the other clubs lies in the fact that this team had the luxury of Indian players who were able to make a difference. Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, Anirudh Thapa, Lallianzuala Chhangte are some players who propelled the team to the final. While Vanspaul did quite well defensively, Anirudh Thapa was a sensation.
Thapa is one for the future. Not a single voice in this country can be heard saying the contrary. The maturity and versatility he showed this season goes on speaks a lot about how blessed the National Team and Chennaiyin are to have him.
Yet, he wasn’t the best Indian player for Chennaiyin this season.
It’s none other than the boy from Lunglei who just can’t stop sprinting, and surprisingly, scoring.
Questions about this judgement are bound to pop up. Because how can a player, who had 0 goals and 0 assists in the first 580 odd minutes of his season, be named the best of the Indian lot?
Maybe this would have affected a weathered down Chhangte of early December. But there’s no room for doubt after the season got over.
Having fought a seemingly endless battle against his doubters, Chhangte has managed to make a mockery of this small clique of people. It’s not a common sight when an Indian player contributes to 1/5th of the total goals of the team, unless you’re a certain Sunil Chhetri.
Very less do we see a player with poaching instincts in our country. Chhangte belongs to that elite group.
Apart from having an eye for rebound shots and slip-ups from the goalkeeper, Chhangte has developed a style of scoring. After finding the ball at his feet, Chhangte takes a moment to gather momentum with the help of a couple of strides and launches a powerful strike directed towards either of the posts. His double strikes against Kerala Blasters gave him the confidence he needed, and he never looked back.
Only 3 Indians were able to register 5 or more goals this season. Sunil Chhetri (9) leads the list as usual, but Lallianzuala Chhangte (7) came the closest to Chhetri’s imperial stay at the top. Jackichand Singh (5) scored 3 more goals than the next Indian on the list.
While the numbers aren’t quite encouraging, Chhangte has risen as a beacon of hope. At just 22, he has an incredibly bright future in front of him.
Chhangte played 21 matches for Chennaiyin, and clocked 1743 minutes which comes down to an average of 83 minutes per match. But what’s surprising is that Chhangte did not find his name in the referee’s book even a single time.
However, there is something which blots this magical script and would be toe-curling for him.
Chhangte’s supply line did not open its account this season. He did not provide a single assist, which is quite appalling for a winger. While Chennaiyin did just fine without it, he’ll need to improve in this aspect next season if he wants to remain relevant to the team.
The appeal of Chhangte is clear.
After an unsuccessful trial with Viking FK, he found success at the Marina Arena. Chennaiyin fans love him, and hopefully the whole country will too. The rise of Chhangte is not just beneficial for his club, but also the country as we now chase the dream of reaching the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
The sight of him kneeling down and thanking the Almighty could possibly be the one which everyone looks forward to whenever he steps on the pitch, if everything goes right.