The I-league club recently bought 31 acres of land in the city and is planning to start a world class residential academy soon.
Sitting on his couch on a relaxed Sunday morning, Shillong Lajong FC owner and AIFF vice-president Larsing Ming Sawyan must be a happy man overseeing the Indian Super League draft on 23rd July. The man who’s heavily invested in youth is reaping the benefits of his belief. Seven players from Shillong Lajong (current roster) and innumerable former players were sold in the draft and will be plying their trades all across the nation.
Khel Now sat down with Shillong Lajong owner Larsing Ming to know his thoughts on the draft, the profits the club has made and the road which he sees lying ahead of Indian football. Excerpts:
We started off with the stupendous success of Shillong Lajong players and Ming’s outlook on the same. The AIFF Vice-President replied with pride, “The Signing of 7 of our players by ISL teams on transfer fees coupled with good salary amounts is a sort of Industry Certification or acknowledgement of the Lajong Youth Development Program. These players were transferred at a valuation of INR 37 Lacs average value per player and a combined total valuation of 2.59 crores. Considering that some of the ISL teams spent as less as 3.6 crores on 14 players in the draft, the values that our 21-year-old boys achieved was extremely pleasing.”
Will Shillong continue investing in youth, the most logical and obvious question came next? Also, we asked him the amount the club made from the ISL draft. Ming answered the first question, saying, “Lajong’s growth and eventual qualification into the I League was because of our focus on youth. Our sustenance in the I-League and the fact that we are the only team along with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan ( 3 Teams only ) that have participated in each and every I League since 2011 going to the next is totally due to the fact that we produce our own players.”
The second answer threw us in a fix because the sum which they received as transfer fees was shocking. He continued, “The last Indian player signing above the age of 19 that we made was 3 years back in 2014. Lajong is the first and only club in the history of Indian club football to cross the 1 crore mark in transfer earnings. We clocked total transfer revenue of INR 1.47 crores through player transfer to ISL Teams.”
Chinglesana Singh Konsham, one of the best young defenders in Indian footballing circuits, was lapped up by FC Goa after some brilliant performances for both Shillong Lajong and Delhi Dynamos FC last season. Young winger Rupert Nongrum will ply his trade for Kolkata based side ATK after impressing for the same pair as Chinglensana. Kerala Blasters have lapped up impressive wing-back duo of Samuel Shadap and Pritam Singh Soreisam, who’d love the chance to work with longtime mentor and coach Thangboi Singto again.
ATK has also lapped up young winger Bipin Singh, who played a key role in taking Shillong Lajong to the fifth position in the I-league last season. Former captain Nim Dorjee Tamang is set to join FC Pune City and is set to play a key role for one of the underachievers of the ISL journey. Joining him will be midfield maestro and free-kick specialist Isaac Vanlalsawma, one of the breakout stars of last season’s league. Vishal Kaith has also been retained by the Pune side, and is one of the sought-after goalkeepers in Indian football.
Auctions or drafts, we gave him the choice. He believed in the latter and opined, “I think the idea of the player draft was to regulate the cost of players which perhaps at this point in time is crucial for the ISL sustainability plan. Player Auctions would have escalated the price of players.”
Indian football has recently under seen various changes, like the advent of a parallel league system, albeit temporarily. Ming opined, “Indian Football is in transition and the Parallel League system is a temporary arrangement till the final shape and structure of the League are evolved.”
Neroca FC will be the third team from the Northeast Zone to participate in the I-league next season (they won the I-league 2nd Division) and recently, there has been the rise of Guwahati City FC and resurgence of Shillong United. Do we see the Northeast talent used to its hilt now and will there be more competition in the region?
“The North Eastern football eco-system is growing and that is good for the game,” said Ming, continuing, “Lajong has been competing and sustaining at the highest level of Indian Football for a decade now. In football, there is no substitute for experience. The experience we have gained during this period is invaluable. We are geared up for the next ten years.”
Has Shillong Lajong lost a part of their identity with so many players gone from the club? Ming refutes the logic and adds, “13 Players in the ISL this year have started their I League careers in Lajong. 4 others have played for us during their formative years. The Lajong footprint and identity is like none other. No club in India today can boast of such a record. This is despite the fact that we pick players (besides goalkeepers) only from the North East.”
Continuing from where he left off, he said, “Our fans will be aware that the building of the next generation of Lajong products is in progress already. We still have extremely talented players like Redeem Tlang, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Hardycliff Nongbri, Alen Deory, Zodingliana, Purbha Lachempa, Shaiborlang, Aiban Dohling and a host of extremely talented youngsters in the squad. These players are as good as the ones we have traded in the ISL. The future is promising.”
He also stated that there’s a Lajong identity beyond the players. According to him, it is based on the legacy the club has created in the last three decades and will continue the same in the next few. Adding to the same, Ming said, “The Lajong identity is based on the connection that the club has with the people across the North East and is based on regionalism with a nationalistic objective in mind. People across the region are connected with the Club because Lajong is representative of their aspirations and they can identify with the Club.”
Being the AIFF Vice-President, we talked to him about the one-league structure and proposal. Ming, with all his experience at the top level, answered, “India needs a multi-tiered League structure that provides an opportunity for any professional club worth its grain and salt to qualify to the highest League on merit. The faster such a structure is created and put in place, the better it is for Indian Football. Lajong today owns 31 acres of land on the outskirts of Shillong and our objective now is to build a truly World Class Football Academy of Excellence.”
Continuing on the development aspect of the same, he said, “Also, all professional football clubs must own proper training infrastructure or at least have them at their entire disposal. Only then will football be viable. Viability comes when the game is developed to its true potential.”
What is that one thing I-league club owners must learn from the Indian Super League, we asked? The ever-willing-to-learn-and-evolve man said that the marketing, management, operations and hygiene levels in the ISL are extremely high and professional. He smartly added, “At Lajong, we try to be just as good.”
We also questioned him about his take on the legacy clubs and their stance on the Indian Super League to which he quipped, “The Indian Super League needs to sustain, survive and grow in the interest of Indian Football. In the current structure, 65% of the ISL teams that have been created come out of West of Bengal and the North East and it is vital for the development of football in India that professional teams from the metros of the West, North and South are created. Also, historically and in the current scenario, 60% of the National team players have come from Eastern India.”
“Till then,” he continued, “It is extremely important that the legacy clubs from Bengal and the North East be given appropriate importance as their existence and growth will be strategic to the continued development of the game in this part of the country that has historically and is currently contributing up to 60% of all National Team players.”
We concluded the discussion with AIFF having allowed the registration of six foreign players for the upcoming season, with five of them on the pitch. One, of course, needs to be from an AFC Member Association. Ming opposed the move, saying, “I disapprove the call for more foreigners in the I-League. Having more than 4 foreigners in the league will mean lesser playing opportunities for Indian players which is a blockage to the development of football and the players in the country. Besides having more foreigners will not enhance the marketability of the League either.”
He went on to compare the same with Indian Super League as well, and added, “At a stage when even the ISL is reducing the number of foreigners in the League, the call to increase the number of foreigners in the I League is not a correct one .”
In this riveting conversation with one of the finest visionaries in Indian football, we gained a lot of information and it proves that Indian football, at least in the Northeast, will continue to thrive and prosper at the right rate.