The youngster sounded confident ahead of ISL 2021-22.

The Indian Super League (ISL)’s eighth season is on the horizon. All the teams have started their groundwork on the western shores of the country, in Goa. One of the sides to watch out for will surely be Mumbai City, who will start their title defence come November 22.

Mumbai City have made a lot of changes to their setup, with the change on the sidelines being the most prominent one. Sergio Lobera bid adieu to Indian football after enjoying four largely successful seasons in the country. He has been replaced by English tactician Des Buckingham.

The Islanders have recruited many interesting profiles and have also extended the stay of their possible future stars. One such name is Hmingthanmawia also known as ‘Valpuia,’ the 21-year-old defender from Mizoram. The young defender extended his stay with the defending champions until 2025.

In an exclusive interview with Khel Now, Valpuia spoke about his journey, last season and objectives ahead of the upcoming campaign, from the bio-bubble in Goa:

Introduction to football

Indian football stars always have stories to tell about how they got into the beautiful game. Valpuia is no different. “Ever since I was a kid, I loved playing football. I grew up admiring football and it is also my hobby,” he asserted.

Time at Aizawl FC

Valpuia was a part of Aizawl FC’s youth as well as senior team dynamics. When quizzed about how he joined the People’s Club, he revealed how his coach invited him to join their youth team. “One of my coaches invited me to join Aizawl’s youth team. I accepted the offer and started playing for them. I played for their U-16, U-18 teams and then the first-team,” he replied.

Why a centre-back?

Football is multi-faceted sport with 11 different and interesting positions. And Valpuia chose to become a centre-back. When asked about the reason behind this, he said, “When I was a kid, I never thought of becoming a centre-back. But, people do change with time and when I grew up, I started playing as a centre-back. The coach saw my potential and that is how it happened.”

Experience under Jorge Costa

The Islanders signed Valpuia in 2019 when Jorge Costa was in-charge of the first-team. Costa was very demanding on the pitch. He wanted a solid defence alongside a threatening attack. Valpuia said he had a great experience of playing under the Portuguese manager.

“It was a great experience playing under Jorge Costa. He was my first coach in the ISL. We had great moments under him and it was amazing to train under him.” he explained.

Thoughts on last season

Mumbai City emerged victorious and won the domestic double under Sergio Lobera last season. Valpuia couldn’t make any impact on the pitch, but was a part of Mumbai’s title winning squad and hence, he is a champion. He felt proud and very happy while sharing his thoughts on last season.

“Last season was amazing. I’m proud and happy to be a part of this team. It’s a team game and the coach knew what’s the right thing for a player. As a team player, I’ll give my best both on and off the pitch,” he exclaimed.

Experience of playing under Sergio Lobera

Although Valpuia didn’t get any game-time last season, he worked his socks off in training. He said he’s lucky to have got a chance to work with Sergio Lobera.

“I’m a lucky guy. And (Sergio) Lobera is great coach. I learnt many things under him and I’m happy that I could train under him. It was a great experience.” he stated.

Idol in international football

Valpuia did not hold back from sharing his admiration for his idol and Spain’s legendary defender Sergio Ramos. He also said that he hopes to become like Sergio Ramos one day. “We all have a favourite player and for me it goes to Sergio Ramos. I hope to become like him one day,” he said, laughing.

Preparations ahead of new season

The Islanders will get their title defence underway come November 22. They have got a new head coach on board in Des Buckingham. Valpuia said he is looking forward to the new season and is working hard with his new coaches. He also stressed on the fact that Mumbai will be looking to defend their title.

“We’re looking forward to the upcoming season under the new coach to defend our title. And the most important thing is to give joy and success to the club. Also, we’re looking forward to the AFC Champions League. I’m working hard under my new coaches to improve myself and give my best.” he proclaimed.

Reason behind signing new long-term contract

Ever since Valpuia has joined Mumbai, he hasn’t played much and did not get any game-time last season. But, he still chose to extend his stay with the City Football Group (CFG) owned club. While explaining the reason behind signing a new contract he said that Mumbai City is the best club in India.

“I think I can continue my journey at Mumbai City and I’m really happy. It’s a privilege for a young player like me to have an opportunity at the best club in India.” he explained.

Thoughts on training under great coaches

This will be Valpuia’s third season with Mumbai and every season, he has trained under a different coach. He trained under Jorge Costa in 2019, Sergio Lobera in 2020 and now Des Buckingham in 2021. While expressing his overall experience of learning from such highly-rated coaches, he said, “As I mentioned earlier, I’m a lucky guy. Training under great coaches like Costa and Lobera. They’ve a different style, but it’s an amazing experience for me and my career.”

Message to fans

The youngster requested all the fans of Mumbai City to stay safe and support the team. He also promised the fans they’ll defend the title, together. “I hope you stay safe during this pandemic. And keep supporting us as you always do. So that together we can defend the title,” he concluded.

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